Syrian television today showed Bashar Assad visiting a shelter for internally displaced people in the Damascus suburb of Adra on Wednesday, a rare public appearance for the Syrian president.
According to the Associated Press, it is Assad's first visit appearance outside of Damascus since August, and the Syrian president's office shared it widely on social media:
Assad's visit comes after his troops advanced into a number of Damascus suburbs, pushing back rebels who had once threatened his grip on the Syrian capital, and displacing large numbers of people who lived there.
Last year, it was estimated that 6.5 million people within Syria had been uprooted by years of fighting. “The government will continue to provide for the main needs of the displaced until they all return to their homes, whether in Adra or other areas,” Assad was quoted as saying today.
The appearance comes just a few days before the third anniversary of the start of the Syrian uprising, which is generally accepted to have started March 15, 2011. It also, however, may mark the beginning of election season in Syria: An election must be held 60 to 90 days before the end of Assad's term July 17, according to the Associated Press.
While Assad hasn't officially said he will run, it does appear that his campaign has started already: The Huffington Post's Joshua Hersh has noted that storefronts in Damascus are suddenly being painted with Syrian flags.