Assads react to net campaign with ‘food aid for Homs’ footage

President Bashar al-Assad and wife Asma have been shown on Syrian state television packing food aid in an apparent effort to burnish their image after they were ridiculed for ordering luxury goods as Syria burned.

State TV broadcast pictures yesterday of the Assads receiving a rapturous welcome at al-Fahya stadium in Damascus.

They joined hundreds of volunteers boxing up flour, sugar, cooking oil and pasta for victims of fighting in Homs, where Mr Assad’s forces are crushing an uprising.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The Assads have long worked to manage their image, but it backfired a year ago when a photoshoot and gushing profile of Asma, 36, appeared in Vogue magazine just as her husband launched a violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

Those images are now part of a YouTube campaign led by the wives of UN ambassadors from Britain and Germany, which alternates stylish shots of Asma with gruesome pictures of dead and injured Syrian children.

Yesterday Asma dressed down in a pink sweater over a simple dress with her hair pinned up.

Her husband looked relaxed, towering above his admirers in a polo shirt with an identity pass on a ribbon around his neck. The two packed boxes and carried them over to stacks of aid awaiting distribution.

Mr Assad is held responsible by western and Arab governments for the deaths of over 9,000 Syrians in a crackdown on dissent that began 13 months ago as his autocratic rule was challenged, first by peaceful protesters and now by a rebel army.

Despite the uprising, Mr Assad has strong support in parts of Syria, especially among religious minorities such as his own Alawite sect. He is opposed by many Sunni Muslims, who make up the majority of Syria’s 23 million people.