As her husband vows to ‘cleanse’ the northern city of Aleppo with relentless airstrikes, Syria’s First Lady Asma al-Assad is playing the role of a kind-hearted humanitarian in Damascus.
The wife of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is believed to live in the centre of the capital city with their three children. The area has been largely spared from the relentless violence that has swept the country since 2011.
Posts on an official presidency Instagram account show the British-born First Lady, who was educated at King’s College London, greeting female graduates, hugging the orphaned children of regime soldiers and sharing jokes with the Syrian people that are loyal to Assad.
The pictures on the social media page are in stark contrast to the one’s emerging from rebel-held areas, where thousands of civilians are suffering due, in part, to her husband’s ‘starve or surrender’ policy.
Away from her sheltered presidential life in Damascus, Aleppo is being pounded by fresh air strikes amid clashes between government forces and rebels.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported dozens of air strikes on eastern Aleppo overnight on Thursday. It added that clashes were taking place on the northern and southern edges of the city.
The Aleppo Media Centre, an activist collective, said the strikes had killed and wounded a number of people, with some buried under the debris.
The Observatory said on Wednesday that at least 358 civilians have been killed in eastern Aleppo since a US and Russian-brokered truce collapsed on September 19.
The UN says more than 100 children have been killed in the campaign, which has also included a limited ground offensive.
On Friday, President Assad vowed to ‘cleanse’ Aleppo and said a military victory in the city would give the Syrian army a ‘springboard’ to liberate other areas of the country from ‘terrorists’.
In an interview with Russian media outlet Komsomolskaya Pravda, he said the northern city is effectively no longer Syria’s industrial capital but taking it back would provide important political and strategic gains for his regime.
‘It’s going to be the springboard, as a big city, to move to other areas, to liberate other areas from the terrorists. This is the importance of Aleppo now,’ he said.
‘You have to keep cleaning this area and to push the terrorists to Turkey to go back to where they come from, or to kill them. There’s no other option. But Aleppo is going to be a very important springboard to do this move.’
Meanwhile, on Friday Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a law ratifying Moscow’s deal with Syria to deploy its forces in the country indefinitely, in a move seen as firming their long-term presence.
The agreement — signed between Moscow and Damascus in August 2015 — allowed Russia to establish its Hmeimim airbase to launch operations in support of ally President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
Putin’s official signing off on the pact, that lasts for an ‘indefinite’ period, is a legal move that many believe will now pave the way for Moscow to make the base permanent.
The ratification of the deal, which follows votes by both Russia’s parliament and senate, comes as tensions with the West spike over Russia’s bombing of rebel-held, besieged eastern Aleppo.
Putin in August asked lawmakers to ratify the deal, which grants Russian forces immunity from prosecution in Syria.
The latest assault by government forces in Aleppo with the support of Russian airpower has sparked Western accusations of potential war crimes.
As relations have slumped, the Kremlin has bolstered its forces in Syria and on Monday announced they will also turn their Soviet-era naval facility in the country into a permanent base.
Moscow is currently believed to have some 4,000 personnel stationed at Hmeimim, deep in government-held territory, along with several dozen warplanes.