Syrian state television has broadcast images of President Bashar al-Assad unharmed and attending prayers in a Damascus mosque after rebels claimed to have fired rockets at his motorcade.
Syrian rebels claimed on Thursday to have fired rockets at the motorcade of President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. He was later shown by state television, visiting a mosque to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
The attack claim was made by the Tahrir al-sham rebel brigade, a unit of the opposition Free Syrian Army. Syria’s information minister later said on state television that Assad’s vehicle did not come under attack. Restrictions on the presence of international media make swift verification of such stories difficult.
“These reports are totally false. The president was driving his car himself, he attended the prayer and greeted people… everything is normal,” said Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi.
The news agency Reuters later quoted a rebel leader as saying the militia had fired 120 mm artillery shells towards Assad’s convoy in the heart of the capital.
“The attack rattled the regime, even if Assad was not hit,” rebel brigade head Firas al-Bitar told Reuters from an undisclosed location in Damascus.
“There were two motorcades, one containing Assad and a decoy. We targeted the correct one.”
Claim follows ambush
The rebel claim was made after Syrian troops reportedly ambushed a large group of rebels on a once secret supply route northeast of Damascus early on Wednesday. Activists said 62 rebels were killed.
Assad has rarely appeared in public since Syria’s conflict degenerated into open warfare in 2011. Last Sunday, he vowed to strike “with an iron fist” against the 28-month uprising.
US President Barack Obama said on Wednesday that Washington would provide a further $195 million (146 million euros) in humanitarian and food aid to Syrian rebels, taking the total sum spent past $1 billion.
The White House also that Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan held a phone conversion about the civil war in Syria as well as the ongoing unrest in Egypt.
They had “discussed the danger of foreign extremists in Syria and agreed on the importance of supporting a unified and inclusive” Syrian opposition, the White House statement said.
Ban to consult Russia
Their phone call preceded talks on Syria that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were due on hold later on Thursday in New York. Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry are to meet in Washington on Friday.
Earlier this year, the US and Russia tried to initiate negotiations between Assad and the rebels, with the US accusing Russia of helping Assad to cling to power.
Spare civilians, pleads UN
More than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria since fighting broke out in 2011. Some 1.8 million Syrians have sought refuge in neighboring countries, such as Jordan, Turkey and Iraq. Millions more are displaced inside Syria.
At the UN, humanitarian chief Valerie Amis has proposed wide-ranging measures to protect Syrian civilians, especially children, such as avoiding the locating of military positions in populated areas and safe passage for humanitarian conveys.
The scale of destruction was documented on Wednesday when Amnesty International published satellite images. These showed the embattled city of Aleppo, with hundreds of damaged and demolished houses.
“You can see really clearly buildings – groups of buildings – that were there a year ago that are no longer there today,” said Amnesty adviser Donetalla Rovera.
ipj/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters)