Muslim Religious Holiday Eid al-Adha Marked by ISIS and Syrian President Assad in War-torn Syria

Syrians warring against one another for more than six years observed the Islamic feast of Eid al-Adha, signaling a brief respite in one of the world’s deadliest battlefields.

After more than a year and a half of sweeping victories against rebels and jihadists nationwide, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visited Friday the town of Qara, located about 62 miles from Damascus in territory recently retaken from the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), Agence France-Presse reported. Assad, who is a part of the Alawite sect typically associated with Shiite Islam, attended prayers at a local mosque, marking a rare excursion for the Syrian leader outside Damascus. During the ceremony, a local imam reflected on the war’s shift in Assad’s favor.

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“Thanks to your patience and wisdom, supported by the people and army, you are leading the homeland toward safety,” Sheikh Ma’moun al-Qadiri said, according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency.

“Today, we say the Eid came back this year accompanied with a great victory for our army in Qalamoun, and this victory is crowned with your Excellency’s presence among your people in the Qara of Qalamoun,” he added.

Qara, which lies just miles from the Lebanese border, was one of numerous towns and villages in the western mountains of Qalamoun recently reclaimed by the Syrian army and its allies, including the Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite Muslim Hezbollah, during an assault on ISIS that concluded Sunday with a rare ceasefire agreement. The successful offensive and Friday’s visit was the latest sign of Assad’s growing confidence in his ability to win a war that once forced him to withdraw his military from most of the country.

Despite Assad’s momentum, however, he faces major challenges ahead in tackling pockets of insurgency in the country’s northwest and southwest, remaining ISIS strongholds in the east and the nationalist aspirations of U.S.-backed Kurds in the north. On the international stage, he enjoys Russian and Iranian support and many Western nations have ceased calling for his removal, though he continues to face scrutiny over allegations of human rights abuses.

GettyImages-841157110 Syrians shop for sweets at al-Bazourieh, a popular market in the old part of the capital, Damascus, in preparation for celebrations for Eid al-Adha. While violence between the Syrian army and rebels continue to plague the outskirts of Damascus, the capital itself has retained a semblance of normalcy throughout more than six years of war. LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images

In Damascus, Syrians celebrated Eid al-Adha as Syria’s armed forces battled to secure the last remaining rebel-held enclaves in the capital’s outskirts, according to The Los Angeles Times. The pockets of resistance have been plagued by infighting between opposition groups, most of which have been forced into reconciliation agreements that allow them either to abandon their cause or to relocate elsewhere in the country.

Individuals from the formerly rebel-held district of Jobar, now residing in Ghouta, returned to Jobar in order to visit local cemeteries, which have been heavily damaged by intense urban warfare and airstrikes.

GettyImages-841459390 Displaced Syrians from Jobar, now living in eastern Ghouta, visit graves in a destroyed cemetery in their hometown on the first day of the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday, on September 1. As the Syrian army reasserts control over the restive outskirts of Damascus, rebels have been compelled to join reconciliation deals allowing them either to stay or to relocate elsewhere within the country. MOHAMMED EYAD/AFP/Getty Images

Eid Al-Adha was also observed by members of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a mostly Kurdish coalition of Arabs and ethnic minorities battling ISIS in its de facto capital of Raqqa. The Syrian Democratic Forces have managed to dislodge ISIS from more than half of the city but face fierce resistance as the operation intensifies. While Kurdish militias have enjoyed Washington’s blessing thus far, many have expressed concern about their future once ISIS is defeated and the U.S. potentially steps back from the conflict.

The press office of the SDF-affiliate People’s Protection Units (YPG) released footage of citizens in the northern city of Haseke visiting the graves of fallen fighters.

ISIS, too, recognized the sacred holiday. The ultraconservative Sunni Muslim group shared clips of cattle being sold in a market in the ISIS-held eastern city of Deir ez-Zor via the jihadists’ affiliated news outlet, Amaq. The group grew out of a merger between Al-Qaeda in Iraq and other jihadist groups across the border before spreading into Syria in 2013 and wresting control of a number of rebel-held cities, including Deir ez-Zor. As the Syrian army makes a comeback, Deir ez-Zor is the stated goal of a nationwide campaign by the Syrian military and its allies to reclaim one of ISIS’s last major cities and to relieve a besieged bastion of Syrian soldiers trapped by the jihadists for more than three years.

Eid al-Adha, which translates to “Feast of the Slaughter” in Arabic, is one of two major Islamic holidays, the first being Eid al-Fitr, which occurs at the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Eid al-Adha occurs on the 10th day of the Islamic month of Dhu al-Hijjah, which itself shifts from year to year because the Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycle, unlike the standard Gregorian calendar, which is based on the movements of the sun.

The holiday, which occurs during the Islamic pilgrimage of Hajj, remembers Ibrahim (known as Abraham in Christianity and Judaism) and his willingness to sacrifice his son for God, although God ultimately intervenes before his son is actually killed, according to the Islamic tradition.

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