DAMASCUS, Syria – Syrian President Bashar Assad visited troops Sunday on the front line in the newly captured areas of eastern Ghouta, near the capital Damascus, according to images broadcast on state media and on the presidency sites.
In the images carried by al-Ikhbariya TV, Assad stood near a tank and was surrounded by soldiers on a street in eastern Ghouta, the region near Damascus where a government offensive has been underway over the past month. The soldiers cheered and pumped fists in the air. Assad, who wore a suit with no tie, flashed smiles and stopped for chats with soldiers. Some Soldiers posed with him, taking selfies. It was not clear where in eastern Ghouta Assad was.
The images were posted on the official Presidency social media sites. "On the front lines in eastern Ghouta, President Assad with the heroes of the Arab Syrian Army," the Presidency page said.
Earlier Sunday, state media said Syrian troops had entered Saqba, a town in a southern pocket of eastern Ghouta.
It was the latest town to be captured by the Syrian troops and allied militia in a swift advance over the last few days. Al-Ikhbariya TV hailed it as a "major victory."
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Syrian government is now in control of over 80 percent of the area, which has been a rebel stronghold since 2012.
Over the last week, Syrian troops and allied fighters divided the sprawling eastern Ghouta region into three parts, isolating residential areas and facilitating the military advance. Tens of thousands of residents have fled the southern pocket of the eastern Ghouta.
On Sunday, and after days of relative calm in the northern pocket, the Observatory reported new intense shelling on Douma, the largest town in eastern Ghouta.