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Syrian President Bashar Assad’s wife, Asma Assad, diagnosed with leukaemia

Syria’s first lady Asma Assad, second left, with her husband Syrian President Bashar Assad (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)
Syria’s first lady Asma Assad, second left, with her husband Syrian President Bashar Assad (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)

Syrian first lady Asma Assad has been diagnosed with leukaemia, the office of President Bashar Assad has announced.

The president’s wife was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia “after presenting with several symptoms and following a comprehensive series of medical tests and examinations,” the statement said.

She will “adhere to a specialised treatment protocol that includes stringent infection prevention measures” and “will temporarily withdraw from all direct engagements” as part of the treatment plan, it added.

Acute myeloid leukaemia is an aggressive cancer of the bone marrow and the blood.

Asma Assad has previously been treated for breast cancer. In August 2019, she announced that she was “completely” free of the disease a year after her diagnosis.

Syrian President Bashar Assad
Syrian President Bashar Assad married Asma in 2000 (SANA via AP, File)

Born and raised in the United Kingdom, although her family is originally from central Syria, the first lady is a powerful and divisive figure. She is under Western sanctions and has been a highly controversial figure in the course of the Syrian conflict.

She was an investment banker before quitting to marry the then newly minted President Bashar Assad, in 2000. She has since maintained a public role, promoting civil and charity groups, but has been accused of using her British education and Western style to try to mask the brutality of her husband’s crackdown on dissent.

The war, which has killed nearly half a million people and displaced half the country’s pre-war population of 23 million, began as peaceful protests against Mr Assad’s government in March 2011.

The protests were met by a brutal crackdown, and the revolt quickly spiralled into a full-blown civil war.

The announcement of Mr Assad’s diagnosis came as her influential NGO, the Syrian Trust for Development, was putting on its annual Damascene Rose Festival celebrating the rose harvest season.

Before the announcement that she would be withdrawing from public events, the first lady had been widely expected to attend the festivities.