President Bashar Assad has traveled to Moscow in his first known trip abroad since the war broke out in Syria in 2011 to meet his strongest ally Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Syrian and Russian media reported Wednesday.
A statement posted on the Syrian presidency's official Facebook page said Assad met with Putin on Tuesday to discuss the continuation of the military operations against terrorism in Syria. The aim of the military operation is to eradicate terrorism that is obstructing a political solution, the statement said.
The post included a photo of Assad with a wide smile shaking hands with Putin. Russian television showed footage of Putin and Russia's foreign and defense ministers meeting with Assad and his adviser.
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Putin thanked Assad for "accepting our invitation and coming to Moscow despite a tragic situation in your country."
Assad praised Russia's anti-terror efforts since the beginning of his country's war. "Terrorism which we see spreading today could have been more widespread and more harmful if it weren't for your decisions and steps, not only in our region," Assad said in remarks carried by Arab media.
This is the embattled Syrian leader's first known trip abroad since 2011. Syria's conflict began in March 2001 after the government reacted with a violent crackdown to largely peaceful protests against Assad's rule. The protests gradually became an armed insurgency and a civil war that has killed a quarter of a million people in the past five years.
Russia has airstrikes against insurgents in Syria on Sept. 30, saying it is fighting terrorism. Critics and the U.S. say the Moscow military intervention helps props up Assad and is likely to fan the violence.
"Terrorism is an obstacle to a political solution," the Syrian presidency statement quoted Assad as saying. Syria's Ikhbariyah news channel quoted Assad as saying that the Russian airstrikes have helped stop the expansion of the "terrorist" organizations in Syria. The TV station quoted Assad as saying that any military action must be followed by political steps.
Putin added that along with fighting militants, Moscow believes that "a long-term settlement can only be achieved as part of a political process with the participation of all political forces, ethnic and religious groups.
"The Syrian people have been putting up a fight against international terrorism effectively on its own for several years, sustaining sizeable losses but it has achieved positive results recently," Putin said.