Syria's Assad Makes Rare Appearance Outside of Damascus for Prayers

The visit appeared to be the furthest the president has traveled inside Syria since fighting started in 2011, a sign of growing confidence after army gains aided by Russian airstrikes

A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) shows Syrian President Bashar Assad attending a cabinet meeting in Damascus on June 20, 2017.
AFP PHOTO / HO / SANA

Syrian President Bashar Assad delivered prayers for Islam's Id al-Fitr holiday in Hama on Sunday, in a rare trip outside Damascus and his first official one to Hama since the war began.

The visit appeared to be the furthest he has traveled inside Syria since fighting started in 2011, a sign of growing confidence after army gains aided by Russian airstrikes.

Syrian President Bashar Assad, center, shown praying in Hama on June 25, 2017.
SANA/Screenshot

State television broadcast footage of Assad standing to pray in a large mosque in Hama behind its imam, with other clerics standing with him and a large crowd of worshippers.

State news agency SANA quoted the preacher as saying Assad's presence in the city for the festival showed that victory and the return of security were only "a few steps" away.

Rebels seeking to oust Assad reached to within a few kilometers of the northwestern city of Hama as recently as March, before the army and its allies pushed them back.

Last year, Assad delivered Id prayers in Homs, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) closer to Damascus. He has not visited Aleppo since the army drove out rebels last December, in his biggest victory of the war.