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Syrian President Bashar Assad made a rare public appearance Wednesday, defending recent military setbacks to his government forces that are still locked in a bloody four-year civil war with rebel groups.
Last month, Islamist elements of these rebel groups — including the al-Qaeda-linked Nursa Front — captured a town in Syria's Idlib province and edged closer to a government-held heartland along the country's coast.
"We are today waging a war not a battle, and war is different than a battle," Assad said during a visit to a school that was broadcast on the government-sympathetic television station, Syria TV. "It is an operation of attack and retreat, victory and defeat, rise and fall."
His appearance came two days after a scathing report by Amnesty International alleged that Assad's forces have been guilty of "crimes against humanity," indiscriminately dropping barrel bombs on schools, hospitals and mosques.