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Damascus denies rebel attack on convoy; president appears on TV unharmed

Rebels claim they targeted motorcade with 17 mortar rounds; Syrian information minister calls report ‘wholly untrue’

Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.

Undated photo posted on Syrian President Bashar Assad's official Instagram account showing Assad visiting with soldiers in Baba Armr, Homs province. (photo credit: AP/Syrian Presidency via Instagram)
Undated photo posted on Syrian President Bashar Assad's official Instagram account showing Assad visiting with soldiers in Baba Armr, Homs province. (photo credit: AP/Syrian Presidency via Instagram)

The Syrian government denied reports Thursday that the presidential convoy of President Bashar Assad was attacked in the capital earlier in the morning.

“The news is wholly untrue,” said Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi on Syrian state television. Zoubi said the president and his convoy were not affected by the mortar attacks, telling state TV that Assad drove his own car to the mosque

Earlier, Assad appeared on Syrian television performing Eid prayers — footage that was reportedly aired live. In the broadcast, Assad, dressed in a suit, is seen praying in a mosque next to Syria’s grand mufti to mark Eid al-Fitr, the three-day holiday that ends the holy month of Ramadan. The TV channel said the president attended prayers in the Anas bin Malik Mosque in Damascus. The Eid prayers are typically an hour or two after sunrise. In previous years, Assad has been seen attending them early in the morning.

It was the Syrian leader’s third public appearance in over a week as his regime tries to capitalize on recent gains on the battlefield against rebels fighting to oust him from power.

Earlier Thursday, Syrian rebels reported that they struck Assad’s convoy while it was on its way to a Damascus mosque for prayers. Rebel commander Firas al-Bitar told the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya news network that gunmen fired 17 mortars at the procession after “secret information” was obtained on Assad’s movements in al-Amaween Square located in the heart of the Syrian capital.

The rebel group Al-Sham Liberation Brigade and the Free Syrian Army claimed responsibility for the assault. Bitar told the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya news network that he could not verify whether the president was injured or not.

Syrian President Bashar Assad appears on state television shortly after reports of an attack on his presidential convoy Thursday August 8, 2013. (Photo credit: Fernande van Tets/Twitter)
Syrian President Bashar Assad appears on state television shortly after reports of an attack on his presidential convoy Thursday August 8, 2013. (Photo credit: Fernande van Tets/Twitter)

Earlier, Syrian opposition forces said that the roads leading to the al-Rawdha neighborhood of Damascus, which houses the presidential office, had been closed for security reasons.

Damascus residents told Al-Jazeera that they had heard explosions near the area in question.

The state news agency said that several mortars also hit a suburb that is home to the golden-domed Shiite shrine of Sayeda Zeinab, the Prophet Muhammad’s granddaughter, which is popular with Iranian worshippers and tourists. The attacks caused casualties, SANA said, but gave no details.

The Syrian civil war has been waging more than two years and has claimed the lives of over 100,000 people, according to the latest UN figures.

AP contributed to this report.

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