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17 Mar, 2013 19:49

No retreat: Asma Assad, wife of Syrian President, appears in public

No retreat: Asma Assad, wife of Syrian President, appears in public

Asma Assad, the wife of Bashar, dispelled persistent rumors about her whereabouts when she made a public appearance in the capital Damascus at the weekend. Meanwhile, government forces seem to have suffered several setbacks in their conflict with rebels.

On Saturday, Assad, 37, and her three children appeared at the “Mothers’ Rally”, a charity fundraiser for parents of government soldiers who have been killed in the two-year conflict.

Media previously speculated that British-born Assad had escaped the country, leading Russia to issue a denial that it was accommodating the Syrian First Lady last year.

In January a pro-Assad Lebanese newspaper reported that Asma Assad was pregnant with the couple’s fourth child, though the authorities later moved to deny the story as “utterly false”.

Bashar Assad’s mother and sister are said to have left for Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

Despite putting on a brave public face, the Assad regime has endured a difficult time of late.

Brigadier General Mohammed Nour Ezzedeen Khallouf, the army’s chief of supplies and logistics, defected together with his son in what appeared to be a long-prepared move “co-ordinated with various factors in the Syrian revolution”, according to a video message posted online.

Rebels also say they have captured a military intelligence complex in Hauran Plain, near the border with Israel after a five-day siege.

"Anyone who was arrested in the Yarmouk Valley was sent to this military intelligence headquarters to be tortured and it has a strategic importance,” said Abu Iyas al-Haurani, a fighter  in the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade.

Activist group Human Rights Watch also condemned the Assad regime for the use of cluster bombs – smaller explosives carried within a larger projectile and then released over a wide area. The organization claimed the bombs often do not explode immediately, and injure civilians who come upon them accidentally at a later time.

More than 70,000 have been killed in the Syrian conflict since it began in 2011, according to UN estimates.