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Assad visits troops in Ghouta as civilians flee

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By Emily Commander
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Assad visits troops in Ghouta as civilians flee

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was in Eastern Ghouta on Sunday, visiting regime forces as they increase their foothold in the previously rebel-held area.

Assad told the cheering trooops they were "fighting in the whole world's battle" against terrorists.

He had driven to the region in his car, giving an interview en-route, saying that if he could end the situation without fighting, he would prefer to do so.

Pro-government victory

In a month-long assault, Russia-backed pro-government forces have retaken much of Eastern Ghouta, the last major insurgent stronghold near Damascus.

Failaq al-Rahman, the main rebel group in the area, said it was negotiating with the UN about a ceasefire, aid and evacuating injured people.

The United Nations resident coordinator in Syria, Ali al-Za'tari, told Reuters that some 25,000 civilians had fled Ghouta in the last week.

Most have left through a Syrian army corridor near Hammouriyeh.

Troops have splintered Ghouta into three besieged zones in one of the bloodiest offensives of the seven-year war.