Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made a visit to his closest regional ally Iran on Sunday and met Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran, Iranian state media has reported.

Assad, who was making only his second trip to the country since the start of Syria’s civil war in 2011, also met Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi during his visit, Iran’s state news agency IRNA reported.

“Today’s Syria is not what it was before the war, although there were no destructions then, but the respect and prestige of Syria is greater than before, and everyone sees this country as a power,” Khamenei told Assad, according to Iran’s state TV.

State TV also quoted Assad as saying that “the strategic ties between Iran and Syria has prevented the Zionist regime’s (Israel) dominance in the region”.

Raisi said that his government’s priority in the meeting with Assad was to strengthen strategic ties with Syria, Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency reported.

Iran’s Nour News said Assad, who last visited Iran in February 2019, had now left Tehran for Syria.

Assad was able to turn the tide of Syria’s civil war, which erupted following pro-democracy protests in 2011, with crucial help from Iran’s proxy militias and Moscow’s major military intervention in 2015.

The civil war has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven millions from their homes.

Iran’s economic influence in Syria has grown in recent years, supplying Assad’s government with credit lines and winning lucrative business contracts, Reuters reported.