Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made a rare visit to the front line of his country's civil war, spending New Year's Eve with his troops on the outskirts of Damascus.
His office posted a photo of the trip, where he thanked soldiers fighting “in the face of terrorism,” on Twitter late Wednesday. Syrian television on Thursday aired footage of the visit, presenting it as a morale boost for soldiers on the frontline of the country's civil war.
State TV footage showed Assad having dinner of baked beans and boiled potatoes with soldiers and pro-government militiamen Wednesday night in the Jobar neighborhood. Syrian forces have been trying to dislodge insurgents from Jobar, which was captured by anti-Assad fighters in 2013.
“On New Year's Eve families gather, but you decided to be here to protect your country,” Assad told the troops as sporadic gunfire echoed in the background. “I like to be with you on this occasion.”
State news agency SANA said Assad “wished a speedy recovery to the wounded” and praised their sacrifices.
The conflict has killed 76,021 people in 2014, almost half of them civilians and 3,501 of them children, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Thursday.
Syria's conflict began as peaceful protests against President Assad in March 2011, but quickly spiraled into a civil war. The United Nations said about 200,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
The Observatory, which gathers information from sources on the ground, said pro-government forces in Jobar had clashed with fighters from rebel and Islamic battalions and al-Qaida's Syria wing, Nusra Front.
In an update on Thursday, the Observatory said government forces had fired machine guns on areas of Jobar overnight and that three rockets landed in the area in the morning. It added that at least 25 pro-government fighters were killed and dozens wounded in the previous day's fighting. Syrian state media did not mention any casualties.
U.S.-led forces, which have been conducting airstrikes against Islamist militants in Syria since September, struck at 17 Islamic State targets on Wednesday, the Combined Joint Task Force said on Thursday. The airstrikes were conducted near the cities of Al Raqqah, Dayr az Zawr and Kobani.
In Iraq, the U.S.-led coalition conducted 12 strikes, targeting Islamic State buildings, fighting positions and units near the cities of Mosul, Fallujah and Sinjar.
Some material for this post came from Reuters and AP.