AMMAN/BEIRUT — Syrian rebels kept up pressure on President Bashar al-Assad following the assassination of three top lieutenants, fighting loyalist troops within sight of the presidential palace and near government headquarters, residents said today.
An official source said the president, who has made no statement or public appearance since Wednesday’s stunning bomb attack on a crisis meeting of defence and security chiefs, was still commanding operations from his Damascus office.
But opposition sources and a Western diplomat said the embattled leader was now in the coastal city of Latakia.
“Our information is that (Assad) is at his palace in Latakia and that he may have been there for days,” said a senior opposition figure, who declined to be named. The palace, which Assad has used before to conduct official business, is located in hills near the city, Syria’s main Mediterranean port.
Latakia province is home to several towns inhabited by members of Assad’s minority Alawite sect.
The diplomat, who is following events in Syria, said: “Everyone is looking now at how well Assad can maintain the command structure. The killings yesterday were a huge blow, but not fatal.”
Residents said there was no let-up in the heaviest fighting – now in its fifth day – to hit the Syrian capital in a 16-month revolt against Assad, whose family has dominated the pivotal Arab country for 42 years.
Closing in on presidential palace
The battles encroached within sight of the presidential palace, near the security headquarters where Wednesday’s emergency meeting was held, with videos showing clouds of smoke rising over the skyline.
The UN Security Council put off a scheduled vote on a Syria resolution until today and US President Barack Obama telephoned President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Assad’s main ally, to try to persuade Moscow to drop support for him.
The bombing that killed Assad’s brother-in-law, defence minister and a top general triggered fierce army retaliation with artillery unleashed on rebels massed in several districts and armed mostly with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades. (Reuters)