Syrian President Assad attends Muslim service; fighting continues
BEIRUT –- As Syrian government forces continued to pound towns and cities across the nation Sunday, killing at least 50 people, President Bashar Assad attended prayers to observe festivities marking the end of Ramadan.
State media showed photos of Assad praying at the al-Hamad mosque in the Mohajirin neighborhood in the capital, Damascus. Elsewhere in the city and its suburbs, opposition activists said six people were killed.
It was Assad’s first public appearance since the day after a July 18 bombing that killed four of his top security officials and was a chance to strike out against much of the international world, which has condemned his violent crackdown on the opposition.
“The conspiracy and terrorism against Syria by an American, Zionist, Western, Arab [and] Wahabi ... alliance will never defeat the faith, Islam, and determination in Syria,” Sheikh Mohamad Khir Ghantous said in his sermon, state media reported.
Syria’s enemies want to “dismember us, setting the flame of war and sedition among us,” he added.
A number of Assad’s top ministers attended the prayer but notably absent was Vice President Farouk al-Shara. The government denied reports Saturday that al-Shara had defected, following in the path of other high-level officials, including Prime Minister Riyad Hijab.
But some in the opposition claimed that al-Shara had fled to Jordan while others said he had attempted to flee but was now under house arrest.
Eid celebrations came as Syria marked a bloody month of clashes with rebels.
The Local Coordination Committees has documented more than 4,600 deaths during the month including 445 children and 342 women. The largest number of those killed were in Damascus and Aleppo, which were the sites of rebel offensives around the beginning of Ramadan that led to a strong response by government forces. Those forces have increasingly taken to the skies, firing artillery from attack helicopters and fighter jets.
-- Times staff
Photo: Syrian President Bashar Assad attends an Eid service in the al-Hamad mosque Sunday. Credit: Syrian Arab News Agency