BEIRUT - Syrian President Bashar Assad visited a district on the outskirts of Damascus and thanked soldiers fighting "in the face of terrorism", his office said on its Twitter account on Wednesday, posting pictures of the rare trip.
The account said the visit took place in Jobar, northeast of Damascus, on the occasion of the New Year. The district came under heavy Syrian air force strikes on Wednesday according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the nearly four-year conflict.
"No one is celebrating the new year. We are in war...If there was an area of joy which remained in Syria, it is thanks to the victories that you achieved in the face of terrorism," Assad told troops, according to the Twitter account.
It showed a photo of Assad shaking the hand of a man in military fatigues. The image appeared to have been taken outside and after nightfall. Another photo showed Assad in a thick jacket standing with soldiers.
State news agency SANA also reported the visit on Wednesday. Assad is not frequently pictured in public, though he has visited troops in the past during the conflict, according to state media.
On Thursday, Syrian state television aired footage of the visit, showing Assad talking to troops, embracing them and sharing a meal outside. The station played a patriotic song over most of the footage.
Lebanese channel al-Mayadeen also showed similar footage on Thursday, including of Assad speaking to troops outside as several bangs were heard in the distance. It was not clear what made the noise.
Syrian forces have been trying to dislodge insurgents from Jobar, which was captured by anti-Assad fighters in 2013. While government forces control central Damascus, they have continued to face battles on the outskirts of the capital.
Neither the presidency account nor SANA said whether Syrian troops had gained control over all of Jobar or sections of it on Wednesday.
The Syrian Observatory said earlier on Wednesday that the Syrian air force carried out at least 10 raids on Jobar and fired ground missiles at the neighborhood.
The Syrian Observatory, which gathers information from sources on the ground, also said pro-government forces in Jobar had clashed with fighters from rebel and Islamic battalions and al Qaeda's Syria wing, Nusra Front.
In an update on the fighting on Thursday, the Observatory said government forces had fired machine guns on areas of Jobar overnight. It did not have any immediate information on casualties.
Hummus or houmous is a Levantine* food dip or spread made from cooked, mashed chickpeas blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic.
*The term Levant, which appeared in English in 1497, originally meant the East in general or "Mediterranean lands east of Italy". Today, "Levant" is typically used by archaeologists and historians with reference to the prehistory and the ancient and medieval history of the region, as when discussing the Crusades. The term is also occasionally employed to refer to modern events, peoples, states or parts of states in the same region, namely Cyprus, Israel, Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon,Syria, Egypt and Turkey.
Map of the Levant