BEIRUT – Syrian President Bashar Assad and his allies are showing renewed confidence that the momentum in the civil war is shifting in their favor, due in part to the rapid rise of al-Qaida-linked extremists among the rebels and the world’s reluctance to take forceful action to intervene in the fighting.
Several factors appear to have convinced Assad he can weather the storm: Two years into the uprising against his family’s iron rule, his regime remains firmly entrenched in Damascus, the military defection rate has dwindled and key international supporters Russia and China are still solidly on his side.
Moreover, the regime has benefited from the fallout created by audio distributed last month in which the head of the extremist Jabhat al-Nusra group, one of the most powerful and effective rebel groups in Syria, pledged allegiance to al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
There are signs of Assad’s renewed confidence.
After dropping largely out of sight following an hourlong speech at the Opera House in central Damascus in January, Assad has appeared in two TV interviews in the past month. His wife, Asma, appeared in public in March for the first time in months.
“I can say, without exaggeration, that the situation in Syria now is better than it was at the beginning of the crisis,” Assad said in an interview with state-run broadcaster Al-Ikhbariya on April l7.
On Wednesday, a smiling Assad made another rare public appearance, visiting a Damascus power station just a day after a bombing in the capital and two days after his prime minister escaped an assassination attempt.
Syrian TV showed Assad, looking confident and wearing a dark business suit, chatting with workers and shaking their hands on May Day.
“They want to scare us, we will not be scared. … They want us to live underground, we will not live underground,” Assad was shown telling a group of workers gathered around him in a garden.