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Iran's Rouhani vows to back Syria 'until the end of the road'

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran will back Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad until the end, Iranian news agencies quoted President Hassan Rouhani as saying, signaling undimmed support for Tehran’s Arab ally following major gains by armed opposition factions in recent weeks.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani leaves after delivering a speech at plenary session during the Asian African Conference in Jakarta April 22, 2015. REUTERS/Beawiharta/Files

Syria’s military is under some of the toughest pressure it has faced in the four-year conflict. Last month, Islamic State forces seized control of the ancient city of Palmyra in central Syria, which sits on major roads leading to Homs and the capital Damascus.

“The Iranian nation and government will remain at the side of the Syrian nation and government until the end of the road,” state news agency IRNA quoted Rouhani as saying on Tuesday in a meeting with Syria’s parliament speaker in Tehran.

“Tehran has not forgotten its moral obligations to Syria and will continue to provide help and support on its own terms to the government and nation of Syria.”

The visit by speaker Mohammad al-Laham is the latest in a series of high-level visits between Damascus and Tehran, reflecting close coordination as the pressure on Assad has mounted.

Shi’ite power Iran has backed Assad and his father since long before an uprising in 2011, which grew into a civil war along sectarian lines after government forces cracked down on initially peaceful protests against Assad.

As Sunni jihadist factions have become more prominent in the conflict, Assad’s government and Iran have portrayed the Syrian opposition as terrorists backed by regional Sunni countries.

“Unfortunately some countries in the region have miscalculated and think they can use terrorist groups to pursue their goals, but sooner or later terrorism will be upon them,” Rouhani said.

Government forces and allied militia also last week lost control of most of the northwestern province of Idlib to a range of insurgent factions including al Qaeda’s Syria wing.

Latakia is home to many members of the Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam to which Assad and much of the ruling elite belong.

Reporting by Sam Wilkin; Additional reporting by Sylvia Westall in Beirut, Editing by William Maclean and Dominic Evans