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Syrian president marks army's anniversary, rebels blow up arms depot in Homs

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said Thursday that he is confident in victory as his administration succeeded to withstand the country's 28-month crisis, while the rebels in the central city of Homs fired multiple rockets that slammed an arms depot, causing huge explosion and killing at least three people, according to local media.

Assad expressed confidence in defeating the armed rebels as the army reportedly made new advances in the past 24 hours.

Assad made the remarks in a letter to the army marking its 68th anniversary, which read "if we weren't confident of victory, we wouldn't have been able to carry on after more than two years of aggression."

He said the army showed unprecedented heroism in facing the " fiercest and most barbaric war in modern history."

As a show of confident and power, Assad showed up at the Damascus' suburb of Daraya on Thursday and checked a number of military posts in the area to mark the army's anniversary. Daraya, located in the western part of Damascus, emerged as a main stronghold of the armed rebels.

Also marking the army's anniversary, Syrian Defense Minister Fahed al-Freij said the army is "unbreakable" and the enemy and its mercenaries have failed to achieve their schemes thanks to the steadfastness of the military.

Syria is not only leading a war against "terrorism," but is also confronting Arab and regional ruling systems that support its presence in Syria, the minister said in a telephone call with state TV.

The Syrian army is fighting intense battles with the Western- backed rebels on several fronts across the country, mainly in the northern province of Aleppo as well as the southern and central part of the country.

The rebels want to make some territorial gains ahead of the Geneva peace conference as their bargaining chips for possible negotiations with the government. But the army is fighting to strip them of their positions in Homs province and the countryside of Damascus ahead of the planned yet delayed talks.

Pro-government Sham FM radio said Thursday that the army dislodged the rebels from al-Matahen area near the main road leading to the International Airport of Damascus.

Meanwhile, the Lebanese Top News network said the army has launched an operation to retrieve the northern town of Khan al- Assal, which was overran by the rebels earlier this week and where more than 123 soldiers were executed by al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front.

Yet, the army's advancement was met with a surprising and powerful attack by the rebels who fired multiple rockets at pro- government districts in Homs city on Thursday, blowing up one of the Syrian military's arms depots and causing huge destruction at the scene.

Sham FM radio said several rockets slammed a number of areas in the southern districts of Wadi al-Dahab and al-Zahra in Homs city and caused a huge explosion in one of the arms depots of the Syrian army.

The attack was carried out by rebel groups and left huge material losses, it added.

Meanwhile, the country's mainstream media cited military sources as denying media reports that the attack killed 40 people.

Activists' networks said the blast occurred at one of the Syrian troops' arms depots in the Wadi al-Dahab district in Homs city.

Moreover, other activists' websites posted video footage on the internet that shows a huge fireball spiraling into the sky with heavy black smoke surrounding it.

The attack came at a time the Syrian troops were making notable advancements in Homs, stripping the rebels recently of strategic districts, such as the focal point of al-Khalidieh regarded by the rebels as the capital of their revolution against the Assad administration.

A military officer in the city of Homs told Xinhua on condition of anonymity that Homs would be secured and free of rebels within the next two or three months.

According to a UN report, more than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria's 28-month-old crisis and about 1.7 million have been forced to seek refuge in neighboring countries.

[Source: Xinhua, Damascus, 01Aug13]

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