Bashar al-Assad was born in Damascus, on 11 September 1965, the son of Aniseh (née Makhluf) and Hafez al-Assad. Initially Bashar had few political aspirations. His father had been grooming Bashar's older brother, Basil al-Assad, to be the future president. Bashar studied ophthalmology at Damascus University 1988 and arrived in London in 1992 to continue his studies. He was recalled in 1994 to join the Syrian army after Basil's death in an automobile accident. Bashar entered the military academy at Homs, north of Damascus, following the death of Basil, and was propelled through the ranks to become a colonel in January 1999. The accident made Bashar his father's new heir apparent. When the elder Assad died in 2000, Bashar was appointed leader of the Baath-Party and the Army
On Monday, the government claimed that 120 soldiers and police officers had been killed in a town called Jisr al-Shoughour by armed gangs — a common euphemism for protesters. Some residents and opposition activists claimed some of the soldiers had been killed by their colleagues for defecting, though it was impossible to verify either account.
If the residents’ accounts are true, it would mark an extraordinary fissure in a government that has so far maintained the relative unity of the armed forces and the state in the face of the uprising. Though lower-level defections have been reported for weeks, nothing has approached the level of Monday’s bloodshed in Jisr al-Shoughour.
“Now there are clashes between the soldiers on one side and security men and young people on the other,” said Omar, 28, a resident there reached by phone on Monday night. “Tens of soldiers began to stand with civilian protesters and families. The civilians are presenting first aid to some soldiers who get shot by the secret police.”
The loss of control of Jisr al-Shoughour would mark a surrender of territory and control for the government, and residents remaining in the town were bracing for a counterattack. One resident, who gave his name only as Ahmed, said men there were organizing checkpoints and trying to set up barricades and even dig trenches.
But, he asked, “what can these barricades do in front of the tanks?” Other mutinies were reported in Idlib Province this week, though details were scant, and activists have documented lower-level defections in places like Dara’a, the southern town where the uprising began, and Baniyas, a coastal city that sits on a sectarian fault line, since April.
“The only military divisions that are definitely loyal are the Fourth Division and the Republican Guard, and of course the security forces are loyal,” said Radwan Ziadeh, a human rights activist and visiting scholar at George Washington University in Washington. “These are all forces under the personal control of Maher al-Assad.”
Mr. Tarif called the Republican Guard and the intelligence services the state’s pillars.
“The rest are tools,” he said. “They look at the army as a tool. I think the regime is capable of managing the army. It’s not under the illusion that the army is totally loyal.”
KARBEYAZ, Turkey —Backed by tanks and helicopters, Syrian forces swept into the restive northern village of Jisr al-Shoughour late Friday, pressing an offensive against a town that has offered the stiffest challenge yet to four decades of Assad family rule.
The Local Coordinating Committees in Syria, an activist coalition, said that at least 22 people died in clashes across the country on Friday, more than half killed in the northwestern towns around Jisr al-Shoughour.
The group reported that the army had begun shelling the towns of Maaret Al-Noman and Jarjanaz, about 25 miles from Jisr al-Shoughour. It also said there was heavy gunfire in Al Sarmaneyah, a village five miles from the town, as residents burned tires in the street to slow the advance of Syrian troops.
“The army is invading the villages and burning the surrounding farms and killing people randomly,” said the group’s spokesman, Hozan, who declined to give his full name for fear of government retribution.
A 60-year-old Syrian man at the refugee camp in Yayladagi on the Turkish side of the border said other refugees in the camp had spoken by telephone with relatives in the villages who gave similar reports. “They are talking about the army moving with all kinds of armed vehicles and shooting randomly” with tanks and heavy weapons, he said. “The army passed through Al Sarmaneyah and troops are shooting everyone who comes along their way. It is terrible there.”
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