Bashar al-Assad prayed on Monday at a mosque in a Damascus suburb that was evacuated by rebels and surrendered to government control last month and vowed to retake all the rebel-held areas in the country, state media reported.
Assad visited the city of Darayya, southwest of Damascus, on the occasion of Eid al-Adha. Darayya had been a major symbol of the uprising against Assad, and its surrender to government forces after years of siege marked a big blow to the rebellion.
“After killing thousands of its people whose graves are the solid evidence of his brutality, and after his nonstop campaign of barrel bombs filled with napalm and high explosives which completely destroyed most buildings of Darayya, Assad goes to the devastated city to show the world he is praying. “A mouth that prays, a hand that kills” is the best expression could be used to describe what Assad did in Darayya today,” a Syrian political analyst said.
Many of the fighters left with their families to the rebel-controlled province of Idlib in northwestern Syria under a locally brokered agreement between the warring sides. Civilians were also evacuated to another government-held area near Damascus.
Assad was pictured kneeling at prayer in a bare hall alongside other worshippers, including the state’s grand mufti, in a photo published by state news agency SANA.
In the footage of his visit to Darayya, Assad, 51, appeared to be driving his own vehicle, a silver SUV, as he arrived at the mosque. He smiled and waved as he entered.
“The Syrian state is determined to recover every area from the terrorists,” Assad said in an interview broadcast by state media, flanked by his delegation at an otherwise deserted road junction.
He made no mention of the cease-fire agreement, but said the army would continue its work “without hesitation, regardless of any internal or external circumstances.”
The capture of Darayya, a few kilometers (miles) from Damascus, followed years of siege and bombardment and has helped the government secure important areas to the southwest of the capital near an air base.
Backed by Russian air power and Iranian-backed militias, the army has also completely encircled the rebel-held half of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city before the war, which has been divided into government and opposition-held zones for years.