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Syria’s Assad says defeats don’t mean war is lost

President’s comments at a Damascus school were the first since a string of regime losses in Idlib province

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visiting troops, April 20, 2014. (AFP/HO/SANA)
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visiting troops, April 20, 2014. (AFP/HO/SANA)

DAMASCUS, Syria — Syrian President Bashar Assad said Wednesday that setbacks are a normal part of any war and do not mean the conflict is lost, in his first comments after several regime defeats.

“Today we are fighting a war, not a battle. War is not one battle, but a series of many battles,” he said at a rare public appearance on Syria’s Martyrs Day.

“We are not talking about tens or hundreds but thousands of battles and… it is the nature of battles for there to be advances and retreats, victories and losses, ups and downs.”

The comments from Assad at an appearance at a Damascus school were his first since a string of regime losses, particularly in northwestern Idlib province.

In the last few weeks, rebel forces including Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Al-Nusra Front have seized Idlib’s provincial capital, the strategic town of Jisr al-Shughur, and a military base in the area.

The losses in the province, along with rebel advances in the south, have worried some in government-held areas and prompted speculation about the strength of the regime’s forces.

But Assad urged his supporters to remain confident in the face of setbacks.

He warned against “the spread of a spirit of frustration or despair at a loss here or there.”

“In battles… anything can change except for faith in the fighter and the fighter’s faith in victory,” he said.

“So when there are setbacks, we must do our duty as a society and give the army morale and not wait for it to give us morale.”

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