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Syria's Assad pays Easter visit to recaptured Christian town

By Firas Makdesi MAALOULA, Syria (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday visited an ancient Christian town recaptured from rebels last week, state media said, as he seeks to persuade minorities that the government is their best protection against hardline Islamists. Assad's Easter visit to Maaloula - a rare appearance outside central Damascus - also highlighted growing government confidence in recent gains against insurgents around the capital and along the Lebanese border.

Syria's Assad visits recaptured Christian town: state TV

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Easter Sunday visited the ancient Christian town of Maalula, which his troops recently recaptured from rebels, state television said. "On the day of the resurrection of Christ, and from the heart of Maalula, President Assad hopes all Syrians have a happy Easter, and for the reestablishment of peace and security throughout Syria," the channel announced in a caption at the bottom of the screen, without showing images of the visit.

Syria's Assad visits recaptured Christian town: state TV

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Easter Sunday visited the ancient Christian town of Maalula, which his troops recently recaptured from rebels, state television said. "On the day of the resurrection of Christ, and from the heart of Maalula, President Assad hopes all Syrians have a happy Easter, and for the reestablishment of peace and security throughout Syria," the channel announced in a caption at the bottom of the screen, without showing images of the visit. It added that Assad had inspected a monastery damaged in recent fighting. bur-ram/tl/jk

France has 'information' Assad regime using chemical weapons

France has "information" but no firm proof that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime is still using chemical weapons, President Francois Hollande said Sunday. "We have a few elements of information but I do not have the proof," Hollande told journalists after he was asked about reports that Assad was currently using chemical weapons. cls-kat/cc/lto

Syrian opposition accuses Assad's forces of new poison gas attack

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Opposition activists accused President Bashar al-Assad's forces of a new poison gas attack in the Syrian capital on Wednesday, posting footage of four men being treated by medics. They said the chemical attack, the fourth the opposition has reported this month, was in the Harasta neighborhood. Reuters could not independently verify the footage or the allegation due to restrictions on reporting in Syria.

Neither side holds upper hand in Syria

The United States on Monday took issue with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's analysis that the bitter conflict was turning in his favor, saying it had become a "war of attrition." "Our analysis remains what it has been, that this is a war of attrition and neither side has been able to deliver or hold onto significant gains," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. She told reporters that she was not "going to give ground game updates. Certainly our efforts to engage with the opposition continue."

Syria's Assad says war turning in regime's favour

President Bashar al-Assad said Sunday that the war that has torn Syria apart for three years and cost more than 150,000 lives is turning in the government's favour, state news agency SANA reported. "This is a turning point in the crisis, both militarily in terms of the army's achievements in the war against terror, and socially in terms of national reconciliation processes and growing awareness of the truth behind the (attacks) targeting the country," he said.

In Assad's coastal heartland, Syria's war creeps closer

LATAKIA, Syria (Reuters) - For three years, residents of Syria's Mediterranean provinces have watched from their coastal sanctuary as civil war raging further inland tore the country apart, killing tens of thousands of people and devastating historic cities. But a three-week-old offensive by rebel fighters in the north of Latakia province, a bastion of President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite minority, has brought the battle ever closer and shattered that sense of relative security.

Hezbollah confident in Assad, West resigned to Syria stalemate

By Samia Nakhoul and Laila Bassam BEIRUT (Reuters) - Bashar al-Assad's Lebanese ally Hezbollah said his Western foes must now accept he will go on ruling Syria after fighting rebels to a standstill - a "reality" to which his foreign enemies seem increasingly resigned.

Syria's Assad says political Islam project has failed

The "project of political Islam has failed," Syria's President Bashar al-Assad said on Monday, calling for the separation of religion from politics, state television said. Assad's regime has been battling an uprising that has come to be dominated by Islamists, ranging from moderates to radicals, who want to see Syria run as an Islamic state. "The project of political Islam has failed, and there should be no mixing between political and religious work," he said in comments on the 67th anniversary of the founding of his Baath party.
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