Syrian President Bashar al-Assad greeted his troops in a tense suburb of Damascus on Thursday to mark Army Day and pledge victory over rebels fighting to topple him.
Assad’s visit to Daraya is his first known public trip outside the Syrian capital, his seat of power, since he visited the battered Baba Amr district in the central city of Homs after troops seized it from rebels in March 2012.
It was also the latest sign of confidence by Assad, whose troops have been on the offensive and scored significant gains against rebels in recent months.
Syrian TV did not provide details of the visit but the presidency’s Facebook page released a photo of Assad in a blue suit and tie, chatting with two soldiers before what appears to be a damaged building in Daraya.
Daraya, just south of Damascus, was held by rebels for months and it took the army weeks of heavy fighting to regain control of the suburb earlier this year.
Before his trip to Daraya, Assad lauded his troops’ accomplishments in the battle against opposition forces.
“You have stunned the entire world with your steadfastness and ability to overcome the difficulties and score achievements in the face of the fiercest barbaric war the modern history has ever witnessed,” he said in comments released on the occasion of Army Day.
“Had we in Syria not been confident of victory, we wouldn’t have been able to resist” for over two years, Assad said. The statement was carried by the state news agency SANA.
In August 2012, activists reported that regime forces went on a days-long killing spree after they seized Daraya from rebels.
At the time, reports of the death toll ranged from more than 300 to as many as 600. It was impossible to independently verify the numbers because of severe restrictions on media coverage of the conflict.
Assad’s comments on Thursday followed several major gains against the rebels on key battlefields recently, mostly in the central province of Homs and near Damascus.
The rebels suffered two major setbacks during a wide-ranging government offensive in central Syria. In June, Assad’s army recaptured the strategic town of Qusayr near the Lebanese border, and earlier this week, government troops took control of a district in the city of Homs that had long been an opposition stronghold.
More than 100,000 people have been killed since the uprising against the Assad family’s four-decade rule began in March 2011. The revolt later escalated into a civil war, which has uprooted millions of people from their homes.