Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has delivered a message of defiance by performing prayers for the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday in the Damascus suburb of Daraya, only recently surrendered by rebels.
State media on Monday showed the embattled leader attending the prayers at the Saad Bin Moaz mosque in the suburb, which was previously a rebel stronghold synonymous with resistance to his rule.
“I am here with the entire government to send a clear message that we are determined to retake every inch of Syria from the terrorists, to restore peace and stability in the country and to rebuild everything that has been destroyed in the past,” he said in footage broadcast on state TV.
After years of government siege and violence, Daraya’s remaining residents and rebel fighters evacuated in late August after a deal with the government, which has since retaken control.
Assad was joined at the prayers by several members of his ruling Baath party, as well as ministers and members of parliament. The mufti, or Muslim scholar, presiding over the prayers, hailed Daraya as an example for Syria, which has been ravaged by war since 2011.
“Daraya is living proof for all Syrians that the only option available to you is reconciliation and abandoning fighting,” said Adnan al-Afyouni, mufti for Damascus province.
Rebels said they had been forced to agree the deal with the government after the siege created a humanitarian crisis for Daraya’s remaining residents.
But the government has touted the deal, and similar agreements, as the best way to achieve local ceasefires and end the violence.
More than 290,000 people have been killed and more than half the population displaced since the conflict began.
Since 2011, Assad mostly performed his Eid prayers in central Damascus, but just once in the same mosque. Last year he appeared in Homs, a once fiercely contested city, to send a similar message of defiance.