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Iranian Foreign Minister Holds Talks With Syria's Assad In Damascus

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (file photo)
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (file photo)

Iran's foreign minister has held talks with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad as both countries grapple with the coronavirus outbreak.

The country's official government news agency IRNA said Mohammad Javad Zarif met with Assad in the Syrian capital, Damascus, on April 20, but no further details were released.

Photographs posted to the Iranian government's Twitter account showed Zarif and Assad wearing masks and gloves as they met.

Ahead of the visit, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said the talks were expected to touch on bilateral relations, regional developments, and the "fight against terrorism."

Iran is Syria's closest ally in the region. Along with Russia, Tehran has provided crucial military support to Assad during the country’s civil war, which entered its 10th year last month.

More than 400,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since the conflict began.

The civil war has devastated Syria's health system, and aid workers and rights activists have warned the government is incapable of preventing the coronavirus from spreading.

For weeks, government officials denied any threat, allowing Shi'ite pilgrims from Iran and Iraq to visit shrines near Damascus. Fighters, allied with the Syrian military, traveled back and forth from those countries.

By early March, restrictions began with a partial closure of borders and shrines.

Syria’s official count is 39 infections and three deaths, all in or around Damascus, though most experts believe the number is far higher.

With reporting by IRNA and AP