Assad says Syria 'victorious', rebels overrun Raqa
President Bashar al-Assad says his regime has conquered the 'conspiracy' against it.
DAMASCUS - President Bashar al-Assad said his regime has conquered the "conspiracy" against it, even as rebels overran the capital of Raqa province and captured its governor in the biggest success of their revolt.
Assad in comments published Tuesday in pro-Damascus Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, also said his opponents, backed by foreign powers, were "playing a game of survival" and that his forces were winning on the battlefields.
"The conspiracy against Syria is nearing its end," the newspaper said, citing unnamed politicians who met with Assad in the Syrian capital.
"Significant successes have been made, whose strategic importance is clear even to those in the region and the rest of the world who are making useless plans against Syria's security," the report cited Assad as telling his Arab nationalist visitors.
The politicians described Assad as "very comfortable" with military developments in Syria and had raised "contradictions in the exiled opposition groups' stance... as proof of their failure".
Assad's regime has frequently referred to the revolt that broke out in Syria in March 2011 as a foreign-backed plot against the country, refusing to recognise as genuine the movement calling for his downfall.
Assad's remarks were published a day after Syrian rebels fighting the regime overran the provincial capital of Raqa province in the north, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
On Tuesday, the Observatory distributed a short amateur video filmed by rebels showing provincial governor Hassan Jalili, and Suleiman Suleiman, the ruling Baath party's secretary general for Raqa province, captured by rebels.
"All we want is to get rid of the regime," an unidentified rebel tells the captives, who can be seen sitting in silence, wearing dark suits and pale blue shirts. The veracity of the video could not immediately be verified.
"This is the highest profile capture by rebels of a regime official. Raqa has suffered a lot because of the governor's corruption," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
Though insurgents took most of Raqa on Monday, troops and pro-regime militia fought on during the night near the military intelligence headquarters in the city, said the Observatory.
"New army reinforcements are on their way to Raqa," Abdel Rahman said.
Pro-regime newspaper Al-Watan meanwhile described the takeover as "terrorism spreading in Raqa".
"The army and security services are fighting fierce battles in the city of Raqa where thousands of armed men have arrived" from the countryside, said Al-Watan.
"This city was one of the calmest (in Syria) and was considered a refuge for many Syrians who had fled their cities," the daily added.
Raqa was once home to 240,000 residents, but some 800,000 people forced to flee violence in other parts of Syria have sought shelter there since the start of the conflict.
"Armed men are looting homes as well as public and private institutions amidst the city's chaos," said Al-Watan.
Elsewhere, fresh clashes broke out on Tuesday pitting rebels against troops in insurgent enclaves of the city of Homs, said the Observatory.
The battles come three days into a fierce army and pro-regime militia campaign to reclaim rebel belts in the heart of Homs, dubbed by anti-Assad activists as "the capital of the revolution".
An activist in the rebel-held Old City district of Homs, which has been under army siege for eight months, compared Tuesday's round of fightingto "a war of attrition", as rebels fought off the onslaught and both sides sustained heavy casualties.
"Everywhere you look, it's raining bullets," said Abu Bilal. "Everything in the Old City is burning. This is the army's fiercest onslaught on Homs since the outbreak of the revolt" in March 2011.
The Syrian Revolution General Commission, a grassroots network of activists, meanwhile reported "heavy rocket shelling and tank fire on the (nearby) district of Khaldiyeh, while loud explosions shook the neighbourhood and fierce clashes raged".
Some 70,000 people have been killed in Syria's nearly conflict, the UN says.