Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to Damascus on Tuesday for a meeting with President Bashar Assad, a rare visit that comes amid soaring tensions between Iran and United States following the US drone strike that killed a top Iranian general, the AP reports. While the official statements made during the previously unannounced visit made no mention of the killing last week of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the timing was conspicuous. Soleimani led Iran-backed forces supporting Assad in Syria's civil war and played a key role in shoring up his army. With some 600 US troops deployed in Syria, the country is a potential site of conflict with Iran. Putin's visit is the second to the country during the war, where his troops are fighting alongside Syrian government forces.
The visit also comes amid a crushing Russian-backed offensive by Syrian forces on the northwestern province of Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in Syria. Putin and Assad met at a Russian command post in Damascus, and were presented with military reports on the situation in different regions of Syria, said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. In his conversation with Assad, Putin said a lot has been done toward restoring Syria’s statehood and territorial integrity. At the same time, Putin noted that the situation in the Middle East “is, unfortunately, escalating." During his time in Damascus, Putin visited the Syrian capital's landmark Umayyad Mosque in the walled Old City together, where he viewed the tomb of John the Baptist who is sacred to both Christians and Muslims.
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