The Syrian government denied reports that President Bashar Assad’s convoy came under attack from rebels in the capital, Damascus, while he was headed to attend a prayer ceremony, on Thursday, to mark the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Shelling near Anas bin Malek mosque in Malki district, close to Assad’s residence, coincided with his visit to the mosque, but it is unclear whether the attack was linked to his visit, Associated Press reported.
A rebel leader told al-Arabiya that 17 mortars had targeted the presidential convoy, but added that he could not confirm whether Assad was harmed in the attack.
The Liwa al-Islam rebel group, which claimed to be responsible for the mortar attack told Al Jazeera that there were deaths and injuries, but they said they could not verify whether Assad was in the convoy at the time of the shelling.
Assad was shown attending the prayer, in pictures aired by state television, early morning on Thursday, but it remains unclear whether they were pre-recorded. Video footage released by rebels showed smoke rising in the area, while activists associated with UK-based Observatory for Human Rights also confirmed reports of shelling.
This is the third time in more than a week that Assad has appeared in public, and security was tightened in the area prior to the shelling. The Malki district neighborhood has been largely insulated from rebel attacks, since the uprising began in March 2011, even after rebels gained entry last year to key areas in Damascus.
The shelling came a day after the Syrian army launched an attack near Damascus, killing more than 60 rebels, including some foreigners, according to a state-run news agency report, which the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed.
State media also reported that 18 civilians died in a car bomb blast in eastern Damascus, while a missile attack in the rebel stronghold of Raqqa, a city in northern Syria, killed three and injured dozens.