State television said Assad inspected a shelter for people
displaced by fighting in Adra, which lies about 12 miles northeast
of central Damascus and was partly captured by rebels three months
A picture on the presidency's Twitter account showed Assad, in a
dark jacket and white shirt, talking to a group of women at a
building identified as the Dweir shelter.
Syrian television said Assad was "listening to their needs" and told
them that the state would continue "to secure basic necessities for
the displaced until they can return to their homes in Adra and
Assad has made few public appearances since Syria's conflict began
three years ago. Wednesday's trip underlined his increasing
confidence just 18 months after rebels appeared to be challenging
his control over the capital.
Adra, close to rebel strongholds east of Damascus which are under
siege by Assad's forces, is located by the main highway running
north from Damascus to Homs which the army has fought to secure from
rebel fighters over the last year.
Many residents fled Adra in December when mainly Sunni Muslim rebels
took over part of the town and killed 28 people in a sectarian
attack targeting Druzes, Christians and Alawites — the same sect to
which Assad belongs.
Adra had a population of about 100,000 including Alawites, Druzes,
Christians and Sunni Muslims before the conflict erupted.
[to top of second column]
The Syria crisis, which began with protests against more than 40
years of Assad family rule, became militarised after authorities
cracked down on demonstrators and has descended into a civil war in
which 140,000 people have been killed.
Assad's forces, backed by Shi'ite powers Iran and Hezbollah, are
fighting Syrian rebels backed by foreign jihadis and have secured
much of the center of the country. Authorities have rejected
opposition calls for Assad to step down and are preparing for a
presidential election later this year.
(Writing by Dominic Evans; editing by Sonya Hepinstall)
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