DAMASCUS, Aug 19: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad offered prayers in a Damascus mosque marking the start of the Eid holiday on Sunday, state television showed, his first appearance in public since a July bombing that killed four members of his security brass.

Opposition activists reported anti-government protests at cemeteries and mosques around Syria including Damascus, Hama and Idlib at the outset of the three-day Eidul Fitr feast.

Assad, battling a 17-month-old uprising against 42 years of rule by his family, was accompanied to the Damascus mosque by his prime minister and foreign minister but not his vice president, Farouq al-Shara, whose reported defection was denied the previous day.

His administration shaken by the July 18 bomb attack in Damascus and defections including that of his last prime minister, Assad’s recent appearances had been restricted to state television footage of him during official business. He was shown swearing in the new prime minister a week ago.

Syria’s conflict has intensified since the audacious bombing that killed members of Assad’s long inaccessible inner circle including his defence minister and brother-in-law.

At a mosque in the Damascus residential district of Muhajirin, Assad sat cross-legged during the Eid sermon in which Syria was described as the victim of terrorism and a conspiracy hatched by the United States, Israel, the West and Arabs — an apparent reference to Gulf states which back the revolt.

Sheikh Mohammad Kheir Ghantous said the plot would not “defeat our Islam, our ideology and our determination”.

Assad smiled as he greeted officials including senior members of his Baath Party.  In attendance were Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem and Prime Minister Wael al-Halki.—Reuters


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