Assad Prays in Rare Appearance as Syrian Violence Rages

Assad Shown in Rare Public Appearance as Violence Rages
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad attends Eid prayers in the Hamad Mosque in Damascus on Sunday. Source: SANA via Associated Press

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad was shown on state television yesterday praying in a Damascus mosque to mark the start of an Islamic holiday, a rare public appearance as soldiers battled rebels in several cities.

State-run Syrian Television broadcast footage of Assad praying at the Hamad mosque at end of the fasting month of Ramadan, accompanied by Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallem and other top officials.

Assad, who used to be seen with his wife at restaurants and in public before the uprising began last year, has limited his appearances since the fighting started. Rebels are pushing forward with attacks and control large areas of the country.

Assad spent 11 minutes at the mosque and didn’t linger to talk with worshippers as was his previous practice, Dubai-based Al Arabiya television said. Security at the mosque and in the vicinity were stepped up, it said. Trash cans were removed, bomb-sniffing dogs were brought in and elite Republican Guard forces and snipers were deployed.

Protests in several cities and towns across Syria erupted yesterday after morning prayers were held on the first day of Eid al-Fitr, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on its Facebook page. Syrian government forces killed 160 people yesterday, including 51 in Daraa and 47 in Damascus and its suburbs, the opposition Local Coordination Committees said in an e-mailed statement.

Opposition activists in Darayya released balloons marked with the names of the dead and their families on the first day of the holiday, the committee said.

Bomb Attack

Vice President Faruq al-Shara wasn’t among the officials shown on television with Assad during his mosque visit. State television reported on Aug. 18 that al-Shara’s office denied reports that he had left the country and defected. Al Arabiya television had reported that Shara had left for neighboring Jordan.

Last month, a bomb attack in Damascus killed key members of the military establishment including Assad’s brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, Defense Minister Dawoud Rajhah and the vice president’s military adviser, Hasan Turkmani.

UN Mission

The increasing violence led the United Nations mission in Syria to suspend its activities in June. The mission’s mandate ended yesterday after the UN failed to extend it. The head of the mission, Lieutenant General Babacar Gaye, called on all parties involved in the Syrian conflict to “stop this violence that is causing such suffering to the innocent people of Syria,” according to a transcript e-mailed by his office.

A girl was injured in Jordan as four Syrian shells landed across the border during a battle with rebels, Jordan’s state-run Petra news agency reported yesterday, citing Sameeh Maayteh, Jordan’s minister of state for media affairs and communications.

Lakhdar Brahimi, who was appointed last week to replace Kofi Annan as the UN special envoy to Syria, yesterday told the Associated Press he doesn’t have a plan to achieve consensus within the UN’s Security Council.

Russia and China have blocked actions by the council against Syria.

“The problem is not what I can do differently, it is how others are going to behave differently,” Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister, said in the interview with the AP. Annan, a former UN Secretary General, is stepping down as the UN’s envoy to Syria on Aug. 31.

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