Syrian president admits forces suffered defeats

Syrian President Bashar Assad acknowledged Wednesday that his forces have suffered a string of startling defeats in recent battles with reinvigorated rebels, who have made sweeping advances in the past few weeks.

In an unusual admission during a ceremony in Damascus commemorating Martyrs Day, Assad referred to recent rebel seizures of territory in the north and the south as “setbacks,” which he attributed to the “ups and downs” of war.

The usually upbeat leader painted a sober picture of the fighting, urging Syrians to “boost the morale of the soldier” and explaining the recent routs of his forces as “retreating when circumstances necessitate that.”

Some analysts see the gains by the opposition as a sign that Assad’s hold on power is weakening as the 4-year-old conflict drags on.

SANAA, Yemen

Rebels, allies consolidate hold in port city of Aden

Yemen’s Shiite rebels and their allies consolidated their hold in another part of the southern port city of Aden on Wednesday after heavy fighting with militiamen loyal to the exiled government and capturing the area’s presidential palace, officials said.

The latest advance by the rebels, known as Houthis, and their allies, loyalists of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, showed they are still combat ready despite Saudi-led airstrikes.

The rebels took Aden’s southwestern Tawahi district, killing the area’s military commander, Maj. Gen. Ali Nasser al-Hassani, and seizing the palace, military officials said.

U.S. forces once used the palace as an operations center and training facility for anti-terrorism forces after rebels captured Sanaa last September, they said.


Officials seize explosives, arrest extremists in raid

German authorities conducted raids across the country on Wednesday, seizing explosives and arresting four people accused of founding a right-wing extremist group to attack mosques and housing for asylum seekers.

Police arrested three men and a woman accused of leading the group during raids by some 250 investigators on homes in Saxony and four other states, the federal prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

– From news service reports