Syrian First Lady Asma al-Assad has been diagnosed with breast cancer, officials confirmed on August 8.
President Bashar al-Assad’s wife was receiving treatment for an early-stage malignant tumor.
Born and raised in London, Asma al-Assad has been a highly controversial figure.
The Syrian first lady was one of twelve people placed under EU sanctions in 2012 over the government’s violent response to the Syrian uprising.
A photograph of Asma al-Assad and her husband was posted on Twitter together with the words: “Mrs. Asma al-Assad begins the first stage of treatment for a malignant breast tumor that was discovered early…. the Presidency and its team wish Mrs. Asma a speedy recovery.”
A dual British-Syrian national, Asma al-Assad attended school and university in London before becoming an investment banker.
She moved to Syria in 2000 and married former ophthalmologist Bashar al-Assad, just months after he succeeded his father Hafez al-Assad as president.
Bashar and Asma al-Assad were initially presented as reformers and as a change from the repressive rule of the late president, with a glowing portrait of the first lady published by Vogue in February 2011 – and since deleted – describing her as “the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies”.
However, just a month later, police reacted brutally to protests in the southern city of Deraa, sparking a conflict which has claimed the lives of around half a million people and displaced millions more.
In her first public comments on the violence in February 2012, Asma al-Assad firmly stood beside her husband.
The same year, activists released thousands of private emails purportedly from the president and his wife apparently showing that Asma al-Assad continued to buy luxury goods even after the uprising had begun. She was also personally sanctioned by the EU.
Asma al-Assad did not speak to foreign media again until 2016, when she told Russian state-backed television that she had previously rejected offers of asylum abroad.
Bashar al-Assad’s wife, Asma, has said she rejected a deal to offer her safe passage out of Syria in order to stay by her husband’s side.
Syria’s First Lady Asma al-Assad revealed she believed those offering her a new home were trying to undermine her husband’s presidency.
In an interview with Russian state-backed television, Asma al-Assad refused to say who made the offer.
She also thanked Russia for its “noble efforts” supporting the regime.
Asma al-Assad, whose social media pages are filled with pictures of her meeting orphans and the injured, told Rossiya 24: “I’ve been here since the beginning and I never thought of being anywhere else at all.
“Yes I was offered the opportunity to leave Syria or rather to run from Syria. These offers included guarantees of safety and protection for my children and even financial security.
“It doesn’t take a genius to know what these people were really after. It was a deliberate attempt to shatter people’s confidence in their president.”
Asma al-Assad, a former investment banker who was born in London, has been Syria’s first lady since 2000, after Bashar al-Assad took over the presidency from his father Hafez, who had ruled since 1971.
The Syrian civil war began after pro-democracy campaigners demanding that Bashar al-Assad step aside took to the streets in March 2011, and were violently repressed by the authorities.