Syria: Assad in public for the first time since bombing
SYRIAN President Bashar al-Assad attended prayers in a Damascus mosque to mark the start of the Muslim holiday of Eid yesterday, his first appearance in public since the bombing last month that killed four of his top security officials.
Elsewhere in the country, thousands staged anti-government protests in mosques and cemeteries following special prayers marking Eid al-Fitr, the three-day holiday that ends the holy fasting month of Ramadan. Pious Muslims traditionally visit graves and recite prayers for the dead on the holiday.
Amateur video posted by activists on the internet showed a large group of worshippers in a mosque at al-Zahera district in Damascus shouting: “There is no God but Allah” and “Assad is the enemy of God,” while clapping their hands over their heads.
“May God protect the Free Syrian Army!” they also cried, referring to the main rebel group fighting to topple Assad. The July 18 rebel bombing of the state-security headquarters in the capital was a major blow to Assad. His brother-in-law was among the four killed officials.
Syrian state TV broadcast footage showing Mr Assad praying at the city’s Rihab al-Hamad mosque, a relatively small mosque in al-Muhajireen district only few hundred metres from the presidential palace.
Residents of Damascus said security forces blocked streets and encircled several central mosques in the capital from Saturday evening, possibly to confuse people about where Mr Assad would be
Unlike previous years, Mr Assad was not shown arriving or leaving in his convoy. He was pictured seated cross-legged on the mosque floor.
“All this points to a state of confusion and lack of confidence at the leadership level,” said Syria-based activist Mohammad Saeed. “It shows they don’t have security in the capital under control.”
Mr Assad’s appearance comes amid much speculation on the whereabouts of vice president Farouk al-Sharaa, who was said by some members of the Free Syrian Army to have defected to the opposition. On Saturday, his office denied the reports. Mr al-Sharaa was not shown in the footage at the mosque with Mr Assad, but observers said the two rarely attend the same functions for security reasons.
Meanwhile, the new UN special envoy to Syria admitted yesterday that he faces a difficult job trying to broker peace in Syria and said his first task is overcoming divisions within the security council that stymied the efforts of his predecessor.
Lakhdar Brahimi, who was named on Friday to replace Kofi Annan, said getting the security council to speak “with a unified voice” is critical to his mission’s success, but that he has no concrete ideas on how to achieve that. The former Algerian foreign minister and longtime UN diplomat spoke during an interview at his home in Paris.
Russia and China have used their veto power at the security council to block strong Western- and Arab-backed action against Assad’s regime.
Mr Brahimi, who served as a UN envoy in Afghanistan and Iraq and helped negotiate the end of Lebanon’s civil war as an Arab League envoy, said Mr Annan’s mission failed “because the international community was not as supportive as he needed them to be.”
“The problem is not what I can do differently, it is how others are going to behave differently,” Mr Brahimi said. But asked if he had specific ideas on how to achieve that consensus, Brahimi simply responded “No.”
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 8 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: West