Bashar Assad
Bashar Assad Photo by AP
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Syrian President Bashar Assad said on Wednesday the army's battle with rebel forces would determine the fate of his country, and praised soldiers for confronting what he said were "criminal terrorist gangs".

"The fate of our people and our nation, past, present and future, depends on this battle," Assad, who has not spoken in public since four of his top security officials were assassinated two weeks ago, said in a written statement marking Syria's 67th armed forces day.

Assad is trying to crush a 17-month uprising against his rule. Rebels took their fight last month to the capital Damascus, seized several border posts and are now fighting Assad's forces in Syria's biggest city, Aleppo.

Assad said the army had proved "through confronting the terrorist criminal gangs throughout the past period that you have steely resolve and conscience, and that you are the trustees of the people's values."

"My trust in you is great, and the trust of our people in you that you are ... the defender of its just causes," Assad said in comments which the state news agency SANA said were published in Syria's armed forces magazine.

In past years, Assad used to speak to the Syrian army and nation in a ceremony marking armed forces day. This year, he decided only to release a written statement.