Putin makes surprise trip to Damascus to visit al-Assad

DAMASCUS, Khalil Hamlo and Weedah Hamzah (dpa)- Russian President Vladimir Putin made a surprise visit to Damascus on on Tuesday, his first visit to the Syrian capital during the country's eight-year war.
Putin met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the Russian base in Damascus, where he watched a military parade by Russian forces and was updated on developments in the conflict, according to statements from the Syrian presidency and the Kremlin.

Russia has been al-Assad's key ally since the start of the war and Moscow's military support has been crucial to keeping the beleaguered Syrian leader in power.
Accompanied by al-Assad, Putin visited the Grand Umayyad Mosque and the shrine of St John the Baptist located in the city and wrote in the visitors log, according to the state-run Syrian News Agency (SANA).
Putin also visited the Mariamite Cathedral of Damascus, the oldest church in Damascus and the seat of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.
Thanks to Moscow, al-Assad has regained swathes of lands he had lost to Syrian rebels since the uprising started against his rule in 2011. The Syrian government now controls about two-thirds of Syria.
The two leaders also tackled the situation in Idlib, where the Syrian government, supported by Russian air power, has for months waged a large-scale offensive against rebels in the north-western province, the Syrian state news agency SANA reported.
Putin praised how much land had been taken from Syrian rebels and said "it is clear to the naked eye that peaceful life is returning to the streets of Damascus," the TASS news agency reported.
According to TASS, al-Assad thanked Putin for his visit and for Russia's help in fighting the rebels.
The Russian president is planning a few other visits while in Syria, a spokesman for the Kremlin said, according to TASS.
Putin had paid a visit to the Russian military base of Hmeimim, in the coastal city of Latakia, in 2017. In 2015, al-Assad made his first foreign trip after the civil war to Moscow.
Russia deployed its forces in Syria in September 2015 to help al-Assad in his fight against Syrian rebels.

Tuesday, January 7th 2020
Khalil Hamlo and Weedah Hamzah (dpa)

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