Syria's Assad visits displaced outside capital: state TV

DAMASCUS (AFP) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is making a rare trip outside the capital to meet people displaced by the country's three-year-old civil war, state media reported on Wednesday.

"President Assad is inspecting conditions for the displaced in Damascus province," state television said.

"President Assad is touring shelters for the displaced... and listening to their needs," it added.

"The state continues to secure basic necessities for the displaced until they can return to their homes in Adra and elsewhere," state television quoted Mr Assad as saying.

The state SANA news agency said Mr Assad was visiting Adra, northeast of the capital, and his office's official Twitter account released a photograph of him talking to women and children at the town's Dweir shelter.

Adra is considered a strategic gateway to Damascus and has seen frequent clashes between the army and rebels.

Control of the town and its adjacent industrial park remain contested, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Mr Assad rarely makes public appearances and most of those have been within the confines of the capital.

He was last reported at a public event in January, when he attended prayers at a Damascus mosque.

Mr Assad is expected to seek a new term in a presidential election planned for the middle of the year, despite the raging conflict which has killed more than 140,000 people since March 2011.