Assad joins prayers, army bombards HomsAgence France-Presse . Damascus
Syria’s embattled president Bashar al-Assad attended prayers at a mosque in the capital on Thursday, making a rare public appearance, as his troops blasted rebel districts in the flashpoint city of Homs.
Key regional ally Iran, meanwhile, warned that Syria was unlikely to see peace in 2013.
Appearing in public for the first time since a rare speech on January 6, Assad joined prayers at Al-Afram mosque in a northern district of Damascus to mark Prophet Muhammad’s birthday.
He was shown in a live television broadcast, flanked by Syria’s Grand Mufti Ahmad Hassoun, the highest Sunni religious authority in the country, and the religious endowments minister.
The minister, Mohammed Abdel Settar, earlier called for ‘million man prayers’ at mosques on Friday to appeal for the re-establishment of security in the country, rocked by a deadly anti-regime uprising for the past 22 months.
‘Prayers will be held after Friday services in Syria’s mosques with the appeal for a return to security and safety in the homeland,’ Abdel Settar said, quoted by state news agency SANA.
Assad’s opponents have traditionally called for anti-regime rallies each Friday, the Muslim day of rest and weekly prayers.
After the brief ceremony in Al-Afram mosque attended by dozens of religious clerics and laymen, the president smiled and seemed at ease as a crowd gathered to offer greetings.
On the battlefield, Syrian troops shelled besieged districts of Homs as clashes raged for a fifth straight day in western areas of the ‘capital of the revolution’.
Thirty-one soldiers, 16 rebels and 26 civilians have been killed since Sunday in Homs, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists and medics across the country for its information.
Among those killed on Thursday in the province of the same name were two children and a woman, the Britain-based monitoring group added.
The Syrian Revolution General Authority, a network of opposition activists on the ground, said regime troops used heavy artillery and clashed with the rebel Free Syrian Army in a bid to storm the west side of the city.
The regime has ‘escalated its attack on Homs city and its environs in order to disperse the people on sectarian lines and achieve what it believes will be a final victory,’ said the Syrian National Council, a key opposition group.
It ‘uses the most heinous criminal methods against human beings... shelling with heavy weaponry, blocking off areas to prevent the bare necessities — food, medicine — from entering, sending in sectarian militia,’ the SNC charged.
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