Assad supporters rally in Damascus after Western strikes

Damascus (Syria) (AFP) - Thousands of Syrians gathered Monday in Damascus in defiance of Western strikes on the country and to celebrate the regime reconquering a former rebel bastion outside the capital.

The United States, France and Britain early Saturday targeted what they said were chemical weapon sites after an alleged toxic attack on Eastern Ghouta on April 7.

Later Saturday, President Bashar al-Assad's army announced it had retaken the whole of the region east of Damascus from rebels after an almost two-month military assault.

On Monday, Syrians gathered in the capital's largest square -- Umayyad Square -- ahead of the anniversary of the departure of French troops from the country in 1946.

A day before the public holiday, schools took part in the demonstration at which some participants held up Syria's national flag and portraits of Assad.

"God, Syria and Bashar -- nothing more," protesters chanted.

The square was closed off to traffic, and decorated with images of Assad in military uniform and sunglasses, as well as of his father and predecessor Hafez.

US President Donald Trump triumphantly declared "Mission Accomplished!" after Saturday's strikes on purported chemical weapons sites that were largely vacated.

"We're here to celebrate the victory of the Syrian army in Eastern Ghouta and to send a message to Trump and his allies that they failed," Assad supporter Naila Badr said, her hair wrapped in a white headscarf.

The missile strikes launched by the three countries "only show their impotence, while the army wiped out the terrorism they were funding", said the young woman.

The regime and its supporters describe all rebels, including those recently defeated in Eastern Ghouta, as "terrorists".

"Yes, yes, yes -- a million times yes to Bashar al-Assad," said Radina Awad, another participant who wore sunglasses.

"We want to live in peace. All these states should leave us alone," she said.

The last rebels were bussed out of Eastern Ghouta after the alleged chemical attack on their final holdout of Douma, which rescuers and medics said killed more than 40 people.

Damascus and its ally Moscow say the allegations of a chemical attack are "fabrications".

Syria's civil war has killed more than 350,000 people since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.