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Assad says Syria 'victorious' as rebels overrun town

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

President Bashar al-Assad said on Tuesday his regime has defeated the "conspiracy" against Syria, even as rebels overran a provincial capital and captured its governor in the biggest coup of their revolt.

Assad, in comments published in the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, also said his opponents, backed by foreign powers, were "playing a game of survival" and that his forces had the upper hand on the battlefield.

"The conspiracy against Syria is nearing its end," the paper quoted him as saying, 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," Assad said.

The politicians said Assad appeared "very comfortable" with military developments in Syria and had pointed to "contradictions in the exiled opposition groups' stance... as proof of their failure".

Assad's regime refers to the revolt that broke out in March 2011 as a foreign-backed plot against the country.

His remarks were published a day after Syrian rebels 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.

After insurgents took most of Raqa on Monday, warplanes bombarded the city the next day, said the Observatory.

Pro-regime newspaper Al-Watan, for its part, 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.

In Damascus, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad handed over to the Russian ambassador a German journalist, Billy Six, who was later transferred to his country's embassy in Beirut.

"As (Russian Foreign Minister Sergei) Lavrov asked us to mediate ... we told him we were ready to help, though we once again expressed our reservations about those entering illegally into Syria," Muqdad told reporters.

A spokesman for his employers, Junge Freiheit weekly, said Six had been reporting from Syria since August 2012 and that shortly after Christmas it was informed he had been taken captive by Syrian troops.

In the latest fighting, while warplanes bombarded rebel enclaves in Homs, fresh clashes pitted rebels against troops in insurgent enclaves in the city in central Syria, said the Observatory.

An activist in the rebel-held Old City district of Homs, which has been under army siege for eight months, likened Tuesday's round of fighting to "a war of attrition".

"Everything in the Old City is burning. This is the army's fiercest onslaught on Homs since the outbreak of the revolt," Abu Bilal told AFP via the Internet.

Some 70,000 people have been killed in Syria's nearly two-year-old conflict, the UN says. On Tuesday alone, at least 126 people were killed across the country, according to the Observatory, including 58 rebels, after 194 people were reported killed in Monday.

On a visit to neighbouring Turkey on Tuesday, Jordan's King Abdullah II called on the Syrian regime to move towards an "inclusive transition" to prevent the breakup of the war-torn country.

"Only an inclusive transition will stop sectarian conflict and avoid fragmentation of Syria," he said at a press conference with Turkish President Abdullah Gul whose country has repeatedly called for Assad's ouster.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130305/assad-says-syria-victorious-rebels-overrun-town-0