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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

President Bashar Al Assad visits troops in Syria's battle-scarred Ghouta

The Syrian government has sought to drive a wedge between rival rebels who control different parts of Eastern Ghouta

Syrian President Bashar Al Assad visited Eastern Ghouta for the first time on Sunday to congratulate the troops for flushing out most of the rebels from near Damascus.

“The inhabitants of Damascus are more than grateful and they will maybe tell their children in the coming decades how you saved the capital,” Mr Assad told the fighters in a video released by his office.

Photos and footage of the president – who was dressed in a shirt and jacket – were broadcast on Syrian state television. He was seen surrounded by soldiers, some of whom were perched on a tank behind him.

Eastern Ghouta was the last major opposition foothold near the capital, and rebels said on Sunday that talks were underway with the aim of them leaving to other opposition areas or giving up arms. However, they publicly ruled out the kind of negotiated withdrawal that helped Mr Assad recover Aleppo, Homs and other areas.

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Forces loyal to Mr Assad have split Ghouta into three besieged zones.

The Syrian government has sought to drive a wedge between rival rebels who control different parts of Eastern Ghouta. By working on separate secret talks with rebels in each region and applying varying degrees of military pressure, the government's "divide and rule" tactics were beginning to bear fruit, one opposition source said, according to Reuters.

"The army advances in recent days have piled pressure on the factions and every party wants to get the best deal possible," the source said without elaborating.

More than 1,400 civilians have been killed in Eastern Ghouta in a fierce air and ground campaign, which launched on February 18, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

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