Beirut — Syrian President Bashar Assad made his first appearance Thursday since a bomb killed some of his top lieutenants, looking calm and composed on state TV even as his forces turned parts of Damascus into combat zones and rebels seized two of the country's border crossings.
The unprecedented attack on Assad's inner circle Wednesday, along with the government's inability to crush the rebels after five days of intense clashes in the Syrian capital, point to an unraveling of his grip on power after 16 months of violence.
"It is a war going on here, literally a war," said a 25-year-old woman in the Muhajereen neighborhood. The sounds of battle had kept her up all night and she stayed home from work because she feared random gunfire, she added.
"It reminded me of that night when the Americans shelled Baghdad nine years ago," said the woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she feared for her safety. "I was watching it on TV, but today I'm living a very similar situation."
Even though Assad's powerful military remains mostly loyal suggesting a total collapse may not be imminent the rebels appeared to be making startling gains as the civil war intensified.
Besides the fighting in Damascus, about a half-dozen rebels took over a Syrian border crossing near the Iraqi town of Qaim, said Iraqi army Brig. General Qassim al-Dulaimi. There are four major border posts with Iraq.