Syria’s Assad Makes Rare Public Appearance for Eid Prayers

Posted August 19th, 2012 at 11:45 am (UTC-5)
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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has visited a Damascus mosque for Eid al-Fitr prayers, making his first public appearance since a July bombing that killed four of his top security chiefs.

Syrian state media showed a smiling Mr. Assad wearing a suit and tie and sitting cross-legged at the al-Hamad mosque in the capital, Sunday, surrounded by government officials. In a sermon, an imam described Syria as the victim of a conspiracy by the United States, the West and Sunni Arabs. The Eid al-Fitr festival marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Mr. Assad, a minority Alawite, had not been seen in public since the July 18 rebel bombing of a Damascus security building that killed the four senior security officials. But, he had appeared in several brief television images conducting official business. The autocratic Syrian president has been fighting a 17-month rebellion led by the country's majority Sunnis, who are backed by several predominantly Sunni regional nations.

Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa was not seen alongside Mr. Assad at the mosque. Rebels have claimed that al-Sharaa, a Sunni, recently defected, but the government has denied it.

Syrian rights activists said thousands of people in Damascus and other parts of the country joined anti-Assad protests after Sunday's Eid al-Fitr prayers. The activists also reported more Syrian government bombardments of rebel-held areas. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Saturday's fighting killed at least 137 people. Casualty figures could not be independently confirmed.