Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has met his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad in Damascus in a bid to boost cooperation between the two allies, state media reported.
Tehran has been a main backer of Mr Assad’s government since an uprising turned into a full-blown war in March 2011, and has played an instrumental role in turning the tide in his favour.
Iran has sent scores of military advisers and thousands of Iranian-backed fighters from around the Middle East to fight on Mr Assad’s side.
With the help of Russia and Iran, Syrian government forces have controlled large parts of the country in recent years.
Mr Raisi, who is a leading a high-ranking political and economic delegation in a two-day visit to Syria, was received on arrival at Damascus International Airport on Wednesday by Syrian economy minister Samer al-Khalil.
“Syria’s government and people have gone through great hardship,” Syrian state media quoted Mr Raisi telling Mr Assad during the meeting.
“Today, we can now say that you have overcome all these problems and were victorious despite the threats and sanctions imposed against you.”
He is also set to visit the Sayida Zeinab and Sayida Ruqayya shrines, both holy sites in Shia Islam, as well as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a monument dedicated to Syrian soldiers killed in battle.
The Iranian president’s visit comes as some Arab countries, including regional powerhouses Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have been opening up to Mr Assad and their foreign ministers have visited Damascus in recent weeks.
Syria’s foreign minister also visited the Saudi capital of Riyadh in April, the first such visit since the two countries cut relations in 2012.
In March, Iran and Saudi Arabia, a main backer of Syrian opposition fighters, reached an agreement in China to re-establish diplomatic relations and reopen embassies after seven years of tensions.
The reconciliation between Iran and Saudi Arabia is likely to have positive effects on regional states where the two countries fought proxy wars, including in Syria.
The conflict has since killed nearly half a million people and displaced half of Syria’s pre-war population of 23 million.
“America and its allies failed on all fronts against the resistance, and could not achieve any of their goals,” Iran’s new ambassador to Syria Hossein Akbari told Iran’s state news agency on Tuesday.
The Iranian President’s visit also comes a week after its minister for road and urban development Mehrdad Bazrpash met Mr Assad in Damascus, where he delivered a message from the Iranian leader supporting the expansion of economic relations between the two countries, according to Iran’s state news agency.
Iran’s military presence in Syria been a major concern for Israel, which has vowed to stop Iranian entrenchment along its northern border.
Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes on targets in government-controlled parts of Syria in recent years – but rarely acknowledges them.
Since the beginning of 2023, Syrian officials have attributed a dozen strikes on Syrian territory to Israel, the latest of which came early Tuesday and put the international airport of the northern city of Aleppo out of service.