AP: Crossing into Syria from neighboring Lebanon, visitors are greeted by giant posters of President Bashar Assad.
The signs proclaim: “Welcome to victorious Syria.”
In the capital of Damascus, many of the checkpoints that for years have snarled traffic are gone. The city is again connected to its sprawling suburbs once held by the opposition, and many former residents and visitors from other parts of Syria fill its streets.
There’s a new feeling of hope that an end is near to Syria’s seven-year civil war.
“It is almost over,” Nazeer Habash, 60, said as he walked home near the Hijaz train station in central Damascus. “It is like a child when he starts to walk, taking one step after another, and victory will always be on our side.”
In a central square not far from where rebel shells used to land just a few months ago, families and groups of teenagers took selfies. Children played on a large sculpture spelling out, “I (heart) Damascus.”
The celebratory mood in government-controlled areas stems from successive military advances in the past year.
It is fed by a feeling that Assad, thanks to unwavering support from allies Russia and Iran, has won — or at least has defeated those opposition fighters trying to topple him.
The country has suffered catastrophic damage and some aspects of the conflict are far from over. Still, many Syrians — even some among the opposition — are hoping for some degree of security and stability.
The government now controls major opposition strongholds and key cities like Aleppo, Homs and even Daraa, the southern city where the uprising was born from protests in March 2011.
The vital border crossing with Jordan, sealed for years, is expected to reopen soon after troops recaptured Daraa province, and hopes are high for the resumption of trade and Syrian exports to Arab countries.
Syrians can now drive all the way form the Jordanian border in the south to the central province of Hama on one of the country’s most important highways that was severed by insurgents for years in several locations. There is talk that the railway from Damascus to Aleppo might resume operations later this year.