The Syrian government shot down speculation that President Bashar Assad died or is incapacitated, saying that he is “carrying out his duties quite normally” in a statement on Friday, according to Reuters.
Rumors that the Syrian leader had suffered a stroke or been shot were fueled by his recent disappearance from the public eye, with his last sighting coming on January 20 in an interview with the Japanese television station TBS.
In its statement Friday the Syrian government said “the presidency denies all these reports,” while adding that “President Assad is in excellent health.”
The pro-regime Syrian News Channel reported Monday that Assad spoke by phone with Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro, marking the first time the local media had reported on the Syrian president’s activities since the rumors began, according to Reuters.
Fighting in Syria has slightly waned since the start of a fragile ceasefire on December 30 took effect, although both sides have complained of repeated violations. This lull in the fighting helped lead to the peace talks jointly organised by Turkey, Russia and Iran in Kazakhstan last week, in which the three sponsors of the talks agreed to establish a joint “mechanism” to monitor the frail truce in the war-torn country.
The latest diplomatic push to end bloodshed in Syria comes one month after regime forces, aided by allies Russia and Iran, retook full control of Aleppo, dealing the rebels a heavy blow.
More than 310,000 people have been killed and more than half of the country’s population displaced since Syria’s conflict erupted in 2011 with protests against Assad’s rule.