(CNN) — Syria’s president exhorted his country’s armed forces Wednesday to restore stability to his nation, which is reeling from a growing grass-roots armed resistance and mounting deaths.
“The enemy is among us and is using inside agents to destabilize the country and the security of its citizens,” President Bashar al-Assad said, according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency.
Al-Assad made his remarks during a crucial stage in the nearly 17-month-long national uprising: the battle for control of Aleppo, the country’s most populous city and commercial hub.
More than 14 people were killed in Aleppo on Wednesday, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said.
They were among the 117 people slain in volatile regions with an anti-regime presence Wednesday, including 70 in Damascus and its suburbs, 12 in Idlib and 11 in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, the LCC said.
The occasion for al-Assad’s remarks was the 67th anniversary of the founding of the Syrian Arab Army. Al-Assad addressed the armed forces in a statement published by the People’s Army magazine.
The statement was published on SANA, citing the magazine, and read on his behalf by an anchor on Syrian State TV. He tried to instill confidence in an army stretched by the conflict and beset with defections.
The enemy, he said, “continues to drain our economic and scientific resources in an attempt to weaken us and prevent us from determining our own future.”
“Today, as every day, our people look to you as you defend their honor and dignity and give the nation back its stability and give the people a sense of security and comfort and morale,” the president said.
SANA said al-Assad hailed the army and said it has played a major role in “preserving the nation’s identity and its cultural, social and intellectual components.”
“You wrote the greatest epic of heroism and pride, and proved through facing the war waged against our country and confronting the criminal terrorist gangs that you are entrusted with the values of our people to whom you belong and faithful to their history and civilization,” al-Assad said.
The LCC reported intense artillery shelling in Aleppo. Another opposition group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said on its Facebook page that fighting erupted in the Aleppo region “in the surroundings of a military base in the village of Handarat, which went on for hours.” The group said a rebel leader was killed.
The U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria, the group that had been tasked to monitor the failed U.N.-backed six-point peace plan, reported an increase in fighting and the use of heavy weaponry in the city over the last three days.
“Our observers are reporting exchange of fire, shelling and explosions in addition to use of helicopters, tanks, heavy machine guns and artillery shelling,” said Sausan Ghosheh, a spokeswoman for the mission.
And, she said, observers confirmed that opposition forces have heavy weapons, including tanks.
“The U.N. has reminded both parties of their obligation under international humanitarian law, to protect civilians,” she said in the capital, Damascus. “We call on both sides to show utmost restraint and shift from this mindset of confrontation to a mindset of dialogue.”
Three children, ages 6, 4 and 2 months, were among eight people killed when regime forces shelled a funeral for people slain in Deir Ezzor, the LCC said.
At least 50 of the 70 people killed in the Damascus region died in regime military attacks in the suburban town of Jdeidet Artouz, the LCC said.
Opposition groups reported fighting in two Damascus neighborhoods, Bab Tuma and Bab Sharqi. The neighborhoods, traditionally Christian and pro-al-Assad, were breached by rebels for the first time, opposition forces said. That’s significant because pro-regime enclaves are typically well-fortified by government forces.
Violence also raged in the provinces of Homs, Daraa and Latakia.
The global debate on what to do about Syria will probably get renewed attention this week as France assumes the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday.
France will call for a meeting this week to “try and stop the massacres and prepare for the political transition” in Syria, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told French RTL radio Monday.
On Thursday, Under-secretary-general for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous will give a report to the Security Council on the supervision mission, whose mandate was renewed for 30 days late last month.
Several signs indicate Syria’s civil war is far from over, the International Crisis Group said in a report Wednesday.
The combination of a regime desperately fighting for survival, an Alawite sect that believes its fate hinges entirely on the regime’s and an opposition that is threatened by radicalization could indicate a prolonged civil war, the conflict resolution group said.
“The regime will not succeed in suppressing the armed groups; if anything, its ruthless practices have guaranteed a virtually limitless pool of recruits prepared to fight with the opposition at any cost,” the Crisis Group said.
“Rhetoric also matters, as does the content of transition plans. When the opposition says it will topple the regime, what Alawites hear is that their source of income, employment, and physical protection will be eliminated.”
The president belongs to the minority Alawite sect.
The Syrian National Council, which has been recognized internationally as a legitimate representative of the Syrian opposition, has been the main and most visible opposition group, but others have emerged.
One prominent opposition figure, Haitham al-Maleh, formed a new group, the Council for the Syrian Revolution, after he resigned from what he called an ineffective SNC.
“After months of negotiations, my brothers tasked me with forming the Council for the Syrian Revolution,” al-Maleh said. He said the new group consists of about 45 Syrian expatriates. Its first goal is to create a transitional government after consulting all facets of the Syrian opposition — including the SNC, the rebel Free Syrian Army and activists on the ground.
One senior member of the SNC sloughed off al-Maleh’s move.
“Haitham al-Maleh works alone and is not representative of the Syrian people inside or outside of Syria,” SNC member Basil Kuwaifi said.
“We are against formation of such (a) government because we all know it must have international support, and the person who will head it must be chosen by the Syrians themselves, not several dozen opposition figures from the Committee of Trustees of the Revolution who decided to appoint him to form this government out of Cairo.”
The Syrian crisis started when al-Assad’s security forces launched a violent crackdown on peaceful protests in March 2011. That clampdown spurred a nationwide uprising and led to the appearance of armed rebels, including military defectors and other fighters battling under the rubric of the Free Syrian Army.
The conflict has claimed roughly 17,000 lives, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said last week. Opposition activists put the toll at more than 20,000.