Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on March 18, 2018 visits a frontline area in Damascus' Eastern Ghouta area. (Syrian presidency photo)
DAMASCUS, March 18 (Xinhua) -- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday visited a frontline area in Damascus' Eastern Ghouta area, where the Syrian army is advancing against the rebels, the Syrian presidency media office said.
The media office of the Syrian army published two photos, in which Assad appeared surrounded by soldiers with a caption reading "on the frontline in Eastern Ghouta, President Assad is with the heroes of the Syrian army."
The rare visit comes as the Syrian forces are making strides in the battles against various rebel groups in Eastern Ghouta.
State news agency SANA said thousands of people fled areas in Eastern Ghouta on Sunday, the latest in a series of mass evacuation from that rebel stronghold on the eastern rim of Damascus.
The War Media, the media wing of the Syrian army, said the Syrian government forces have so far captured 80 percent of Eastern Ghouta, as the troops captured the town of Saqba on Sunday and are advancing toward Kafar Batna town.
Eastern Ghouta, a 105-square-km agricultural region consisting of several towns and farmlands, poses the last threat to the capital due to its proximity to government-controlled neighborhoods east of Damascus and ongoing mortar attacks that target residential areas in the capital, pushing people over the edge.
Four major rebel groups are currently positioned inside Eastern Ghouta, namely the Islam Army, Failaq al-Rahman, Ahrar al-Sham, and the Levant Liberation Committee, known as the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front.
The UN humanitarian agencies have sounded the alarm about the worsening humanitarian situation for 400,000 people in that region.
Activists said around 1,000 people have been killed since late last month by the heavy bombardment and military showdown in areas of Eastern Ghouta.