Despite reports by Syrian opposition that President Bashar Assad's
motorcade was hit by rebel rocket fire Thursday, Syrian state television broadcast footage of Assad unharmed, attending prayers at the Anas bin Malik Mosque in Damascus, to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr.
Following the reports, Syria's Information Minister Omran Zoabi told Syrian state television: "The news is wholly untrue."
In the state TV broadcast, Assad, dressed in a suit, was seen praying alongside Syria's grand mufti.
|Assad at prayer (Video: Reuters)|
Islam Alloush of the rebel
Liwa al-Islam Brigade, told Reuters earlier on Thursday that rebels fired rockets which hit Assad's motorcade as he was heading to attend the prayer session in the Malki district, where his residence is located. "Assad was not hit but the information we have based from sources within the regime is that there were casualties within his entourage," Allooush said.
Another rebel faction, the Tahrir al-Sham brigade, a unit of the Free Syrian Army, said it fired several artillery shells towards Assad's convoy in the heart of the capital and that at least some hit their target. Video footage distributed by the Tahrir rebels showed smoke rising from what it said was the Malki district, where Assad and his close aides have homes. Other activists also reported rocket fire into the area.
If confirmed, the attack on the convoy would be one of the most direct against Assad in two years of conflict which have pitched mainly Sunni Muslim rebels against the Alawite president. Rebels have targeted Assad's residences in Damascus and a bombing in the capital last year killed four of his inner circle, but there have been no reports of Assad himself coming under fire.
Location of alleged attack (Photo: Google Maps)
Assad a morning prayers (Photo: Reuters)
The Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights said three mortar rounds hit the capital's district of Malki early in the morning. The neighborhood has rarely been targeted by opposition forces during the conflict, which last year brought the rebels and their battle to the heart of the capital.
There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage in the shelling.
Firas al-Bitar, head of the Tahrir al-Sham brigade, said his fighters had carried out reconnaissance of the route of Assad's motorcade and fired 120 mm artillery towards the president's convoy early on Thursday.
"The attack rattled the regime, even if Assad was not hit," he told Reuters from an undisclosed location in the capital. "There were two motorcades, one containing Assad and a decoy. We targeted the correct one."
Bitar's brigade operates mainly in the Ghouta region on the eastern outskirts of the capital. Another official in Tahrir al-Sham said Assad's forces fired rockets and artillery "like rain" on the region in response to the reported attack
Syrian government forces killed more than 60 rebels on Wednesday, in an ambush near Damascus,
a blow to opposition fighters confronting a regime offensive in the capital, activists said.
The state news agency SANA
confirmed the ambush near the Damascus suburb of Adra at dawn, saying "dozens" were killed.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights
said at least 62 rebels died. It did not report any government casualties.
AP contributed to this report
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