Image: Syrian President Bashar Assad, center, addresses supporters during a rally in Damascus, Syria
Muzaffar Salman  /  AP
Syrian President Bashar Assad, center, addresses supporters during a rally in Damascus on Wednesday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 1/11/2012 8:12:13 AM ET 2012-01-11T13:12:13

President Bashar Assad joined thousands of his supporters Wednesday in an extremely rare public appearance at a rally in the capital Damascus, telling the crowd he wanted to draw strength from them.

Assad, 46, was surrounded by security guards when he appeared in the crowd, dressed more casually than usual in a jacket but no tie.

The crowd shouted "Shabiha forever, for your eyes, Assad," a reference to loyalist militiamen who have gained a fearsome reputation for their part in suppressing anti-Assad protests.

"I belong to this street," he said. "I wanted to be with you so I can draw strength from you in the face of everything that Syria is subjected to. It was important that we maintain our faith in the future. I have that faith in the future and we will undoubtedly triumph over this conspiracy."

Assad's wife Asma and their two children joined him for his surprise appearance in the capital's central Umayyad Square.

'Iron hand'
Assad has made very few public appearances since the uprising against his regime began 10 months ago.

He has blamed the revolt on foreign-backed conspirators and threatened on Tuesday to strike back at those who threaten his regime with an "iron hand."

According to a top U.N. official, an estimated 400 people have been killed in Syria since an Arab League mission arrived in the country to monitor the uprising.

United Nations political chief B. Lynn Pascoe provided the latest figures in a closed-door report to the 15-member Security Council on the Syrian uprising that has already claimed more than 5,000 lives since it began almost 10 months ago, diplomats said on Tuesday.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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