Damascu: Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad met with Damascus manufacturers affected by war today, state media said, in his first reported meeting since rumours circulated that he was suffering from ill health.
Al-Assad greeted business owners from the capital and its countryside to discuss challenges they have faced during the conflict, now in its sixth year, his media office said.
State news agency SANA published photos of Assad in a meeting and quoted him as praising the industrialists’ contributions to Syria’s war-torn economy, Middle East Monitor reported.
Speculation swirled in recent days on social media and some news websites saying Assad, 51, was in critical condition, citing rumours of stroke, or even that he had been shot. He had not made any public appearances in over a fortnight.
The speculation became so bad that the Assad regime was forced to deny the rumours about Al-Assad’s health, saying he was “carrying out his duties quite normally”.
“President Assad is in excellent health,” his office said in a statement on Friday.
SANA said yesterday that Al-Assad had spoken by phone to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the first report from state media to detail Al-Assad’s activities since the health rumours emerged.
In the 17th year of his presidency, Assad holds the upper hand in the Syrian war, bolstered by allies Russia and Iran whose military involvement has turned the conflict to his advantage.
The Syrian army and allied Shia jihadist forces took the Wadi Barada area near Damascus on Sunday, in another blow to opposition groups that have fought for years to unseat Al-Assad.
The capture of Wadi Barada came weeks after armed opposition factions were driven from their last major urban stronghold of east Aleppo, in the Assad regime’s biggest gain of the conflict yet.
Swathes of Syria remain outside his control, including the Daesh-held eastern province of Deir ez-Zor, large areas of the north held by Kurdish groups, and several pockets of opposition-held territory in the west.