BEIRUT — Syrian authorities on Thursday sent text messages over cell phones nationwide with a message for rebels fighting President Bashar Assad's regime: "Game over."
The messages signed by the Syrian Arab Army also urged the rebels to surrender their weapons and warned the countdown to evict foreign fighters has begun. The texts appear to be part of the regime’s psychological battle against the rebels, but are highly unlikely to have any effect on fighters intent on toppling Assad.
Syrians say they began receiving the messages a day after rebels bombed a military command center in Damascus — a major security breach of the heavily guarded capital that highlighted the regime’s growing vulnerability in the face of a rebellion growing in confidence and capabilities.
People with cellular subscriptions received the messages while those with prepaid phones did not, residents in the Syrian capital said.
Despite the high-profile attack, the two sides have been locked in a stalemate after 18 months of conflict. Activists say the death toll since the conflict began in March last year has recently topped 30,000, with nearly two-thirds of the casualties reported in the past six months.
In August, Syrian army helicopters dropped leaflets warning rebels in Damascus to hand over their arms and seek amnesty.
In Geneva on Thursday, the United Nations’ refugee agency said the U.N. and its partners are launching a revised appeal for $487.9 million to help support Syrian refugees. It said 2,000 to 3,000 refugees are crossing into neighboring countries each day.
The UNHCR said 294,000 Syrian refugees are registered or awaiting registration in neighboring countries.
Earlier Thursday, a Lebanese TV station broadcast footage showing Syrian government troops driving rebels from a building they had briefly occupied a day earlier after a double car bomb attack struck army headquarters in Damascus.
The images from Lebanon’s Al Manar TV station further demonstrated the scale of the security breach of the heavily guarded capital by rebels determined to topple the Assad regime.
The fighters detonated car bombs that engulfed the army headquarters in flames, followed by three hours of gunbattles in and around the compound Wednesday.
The government said four army guards were killed and 14 people were wounded, including civilians and military personnel.
The carefully orchestrated attacks were the most dramatic security breach in the center of the capital Damascus since July, when rebels detonated explosives inside a high-level crisis meeting in Damascus that killed four top regime officials, including Assad’s brother-in-law and the defense minister.
They highlighted the regime’s growing vulnerability, even as the 18-month battle to bring down Assad is locked in a stalemate.
Al Manar’s correspondent Youssef Shaeito said he accompanied Syrian troops on Wednesday as they stormed the compound after the explosions. In an interview with the station, he said he saw the bodies of three gunmen inside, suggesting clashes between government forces and rebels inside the building.
The station is owned by the Lebanese Hezbollah militant group, a strong ally of Assad’s regime. Syrian state-run media, however, reported only on the car bombs, omitting any mention of clashes inside the building.
Exclusive Al Manar footage showed a group of soldiers surrounding a building at the compound and shooting at targets inside. Shortly afterward, a pickup truck with a heavy machine gun mounted on it joins the battle.
Eventually, dozens of troops are seen storming the building and going up the stairs from one room to the other amid smoke. The bodies of three gunmen are seen on the floor, one of them with an apparent suicide belt tied around his waist.
Shaeito said that in the mayhem following the explosions, gunmen had infiltrated the army command headquarters, taken up positions and begun shooting at soldiers. He said the gunmen “moved from floor to floor and room to room” and tossed grenades at soldiers outside.
He said it took soldiers about 45 minutes before they were able to storm the building.
International diplomacy has failed to stop the bloodshed in Syria. Syrian activists said more than 305 people were killed across Syria on Wednesday, making it one of the deadliest days since the conflict began.
They included at least 40 people whose bodies were discovered in a suburb of Damascus, some of whom appeared to have been killed execution-style. The exact circumstances in which the victims were killed remain unclear because of strict restrictions on the media.