The Syrian government yesterday denied reports that rebels had targeted President Bashar al-Assad’s motorcade en route to prayers marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at a mosque in the diplomatic quarter of Damascus.
Syrian state TV broadcast images of the president standing beside the country’s most senior Sunni cleric, Ahmed Hassoun, in the Anas bin Malek mosque in Malki district, where the president lives.
Information minister Omran Zohbi said: “These reports are totally false . . . dreams and illusions . . . [The president] attended the prayer and greeted people.”
Two rebel groups – the Tahrir al-Sham brigade of the Free Syrian Army and Liwa al-Islam – claimed to have fired mortars, Russian-made Grad rockets, and artillery shells at the convoy. A spokesman for Liwa al-Islam said Mr Assad’s bodyguards had been wounded.
Free Army spokesman Omar Hamzeh said the convoy had been hit and suggested the video from the mosque may have been of an earlier service.
Tahrir al-Sham commander Firas al-Bitar told al-Arabiya satellite channel there had been two convoys, one of them a decoy. We targeted the correct one . . . The attack rattled the regime, even if Assad was not hit,” he stated.
Mr Assad, who has not been personally targeted earlier in the conflict, was last seen on Sunday attending a multi-confessional event where he predicted victory over “terrorists”.
East of Damascus, five civilians were killed, including a child, and 12 wounded when rebels fired mortars into the Shia Sayyeda Zainab area near the tomb of the granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad.
In the southern Deraa province, opposition National Coalition head Ahmed Jarba reportedly took part in prayers. Head of Deraa's military council Ahmed Fahd al-Nehme said, "The visit . . . shows that large swathes of Syria, from the north to the south, are under opposition control."
Amnesty International has published satellite images of Aleppo revealing the extent of the destruction in this ancient city, resulting in death and displacement and a massive humanitarian crisis. The agency argued that the satellite survey contributed "to a growing body of evidence of potential war crimes in the conduct of the Syrian conflict", and reiterated its call to the UN Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court.
Meanwhile, US Central Intelligence Agency deputy director Michael Morell has warned that Syria's conflict poses the greatest threat to US national security, and took issue with the Obama administration's plan to arm rebels who include al-Qaeda affiliates.
Britain-based opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that at least 4,420 Syrians were killed during Ramadan, two-thirds of them combatants on both sides. An additional 485 were foreign jihadis who joined the rebels. The UN has said the overall death toll exceeds 100,000.
Russia Today has reported that 450 Kurdish women and children may have been killed by Jabhat al-Nusra on Monday in the town of Tal Abyad near the Turkish border. However, neither government nor rebel sources has confirmed this.