Bashar al-Assad in rare public appearance at al-Hamad mosque
Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has made his first appearance in public since a bomb attack in Damascus last month killed several senior officials.
State TV showed Bashar al-Assad performing prayers in the capital’s al-Hamad mosque at the start of the Eid al-Fitr festival marking the end of Ramadan.
Across the country, many people marked the holiday with prayers and anti-government demonstrations.
But opposition groups reported fierce bombardments of rebel-held areas.
Parts of Aleppo and Rastan have been shelled, and clashes reported in Herak, Deraa province, the pro-rebel Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Protests were held at cemeteries and mosques around Syria including Damascus, Hama and Idlib, opposition activists said.
Bashar al-Assad was shown seated on the mosque floor and standing to shake hands with clerics.
Correspondents say that in previous years he was generally filmed arriving or leaving in his convoy, but this did not happen this time.
The Syrian president has not been seen in public since giving a speech in parliament on 4 July.
Two weeks later, a bombing in the state security headquarters killed four senior officials including Bashar al-Assad’s brother in law, Deputy Defence Minister Assef Shawkat.
There have also been several defections in recent weeks by senior officials, notably Prime Minister Riad Hijab.
However, on Saturday officials denied rumors that Vice-President Farouq al-Shara, the most senior Sunni Muslim in the Damascus regime, had gone over to the opposition.
The international community has welcomed the appointment of the veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi as the new UN-Arab League envoy for Syria.
The 78-year-old succeeds Kofi Annan who resigned this month as his peace plan had failed to achieve a real ceasefire.
Analysts say he has a formidable reputation at the UN but is also seen as independent of the major powers.
Officials in Damascus have also given him their support.
However, opposition groups have expressed skepticism about his ability to accomplish his mission.
Lakhdar Brahimi has said it is too soon for him to demand that Bashar al-Assad should step down. Kofi Annan had said it was clear he should leave office.
Meanwhile, the mandate of the UN observer mission in Syria ends at midnight local time. The observers were deployed to monitor a ceasefire brokered by Kofi Annan, but no truce ever took hold.
Announcing his resignation earlier this month, Kofi Annan had said he was unable to fulfill his role because of the growing militarization of the conflict, as well as deadlock in the UN Security Council.
Russia and China have vetoed resolutions on the crisis three times, citing their opposition to any action which might be seen as regime change imposed from outside.
Activists estimate about 20,000 people have died since anti-government protests erupted against the Assad regime in March last year. Tens of thousands of people have also fled the country.
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