Syria denies Assad motorcade attacked in Damascus

AFP , Thursday 8 Aug 2013

On Sunday, Assad said that the only way to stamp out the uprising against him was "by striking it with an iron fist"

Syrian authorities denied media reports of an attack on President Bashar al-Assad's motorcade as he was on his way to a mosque Thursday to attend prayers marking the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday.

Several media outlets, including Saudi-based Al-Arabiya satellite channel, had reported that a rocket attack targeted Assad's motorcade as he travelled to the Anas bin Malik mosque in central Damascus to join the prayers that celebrate the end of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan.

"These reports are totally false. The president was driving his car himself, he attended the prayer and greeted people... everything is normal," Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi told state television.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights watchdog could not confirm the reported rocket attack but said mortar shells early Thursday hit the Malki area in central Daamscus, near to where Assad was attending prayers.

The NGO did not report any casualties or victims in the shelling, which however indicated that rebels seeking to topple Assad are able to launch attacks despite relentless attempts by regime forces to clear the capital of insurgents.

Assad appeared in footage shown by state television sitting on the ground next to other dignitaries, appearing relaxed and smiling during the morning prayer.

"Oh God, grant President Assad success, for the good of the country," Ahmed al-Jazairi, imam of the mosque said at the end of the prayer.

The Syrian president has rarely appeared in public since the beginning of the conflict in 2011. On August 1, he travelled to Daraya, a former rebel stronghold near Damascus, saying he was confident of "victory" against the rebels in a rare journey outside the capital.

On Sunday, Assad said that the only way to stamp out the uprising against him was "by striking it with an iron fist".

More than 100,000 people have died in Syria since the beginning of the country's bloody civil war in March 2011, sparked by the government's repression of demonstrations calling for democratic reforms.

The government has repeatedly blamed the violence in Syria on foreign-backed "terrorist" groups.

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