In a series of intimate scenes broadcast on state TV, Syrian President Bashar al Assad makes a New Year's Eve visit to his troops hunkered down near Damascus and wishes them victory in the new year. Mana Rabiee reports.
The images are intimate .... Syrian President Bashar al Assad visiting his troops hunkered down on the outskirts of Damascus on New Year's Eve. 'How many hours have you been here?' he asks? "We're here 24 hours a day, they reply, 'watching any movement.' State TV says the visit was in Jobar, a district that reportedly came under heavy Syrian airforce strikes earlier in the day. Government forces have been trying to dislodge insurgents from Jobar, which was captured by anti-Assad fighters in 2013. In a New Year's Eve message, Bashar tells the men 'I came here to be with you as we say goodbye to one year and receive a new one.' He wishes them more victories in the new year and salutes the men for fighting rebels and 'terrorists'. Assad has visited troops in the past but -- four years into a protracted civil war -- it's rare now that he's seen in public. His forces control central Damascus but continue to face pitched battles on the fringes of the capitol. He greets a woman from the National Defense Force. 'How long have you been here?' he asks. 'From the beginning of the events', she says, meaning presumably the start of the war. (nats) Assad told his troops they could be sitting with their families tonight but are here instead, protecting their people and their country. 'So I salute you' he says, 'Happy New Year'.