Assad makes appearance amid Eid protests

::Aleppo - President Bashar Assad made a rare public
appearance for the Muslim holiday of Eid on Sunday
as activists staged protests across Syria to rage
against the regime.
The new UN peace envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi,
said it was no longer a question of "preventing civil
war" in Syria but rather stopping it.
Assad joined prayers at a Damascus mosque for the
Eid al-Fitr festival, his first appearance in a public
place since a bomb blast last month killed four top
security officials, although he has been seen on
television since then.
But despite the religious holiday, his forces were still
in deadly action on the ground, shelling several rebel
hubs and clashing with opposition fighters in
Damascus itself, a monitoring group said.
Six children, one as young as five and including four
from the same extended family, were killed by
shelling near their home in the rebel-held town of
Maaret al-Numan in the northwestern province of
Idlib, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
In all, at least 56 people - including 22 civilians - were
killed on the first day of Eid, the festival celebrated
by Muslims to mark the end of the holy month of
Ramadan, the Britain-based group said.
Curses on Bashar
UN observers were winding up their troubled mission
on Sunday in the face of the escalating violence and
a failure by world powers to agree on how to tackle
Assad and bring about peace to the strategically vital
Middle East state.
Syrians joined prayers and staged demonstrations for
Eid, taking place for the second year under the
shadow of a conflict the Observatory says has now
claimed 23 000 lives while the UN gives a death toll
of 17 000.
"Eid is here, Eid is here, God curse you, O Bashar,"
protesters in Qudsaya in Damascus province sang to
the tune of Jingle Bells, according to amateur video
posted on YouTube.
"There is no Eid for Bashar, nothing is holy for him.
They are willing to strike anywhere, mosques,
hospitals, bakeries, children. What kind of Eid is
this?" Abu Issa, a 39-year-old builder in Aleppo, asked
an AFP correspondent.
Several families said they would not make the
traditional visit to cemeteries to place flowers on the
tombs of departed loved ones because of security
"The children in the Old City district are sad because
there are no sweets, no food, no gifts, no new clothes
this Eid," added a young man from the central city of
Homs who gave his name as Abu Bilal.
'Foreign plot'
While demonstrators called for the fall of the regime,
Assad himself joined top government and ruling
Baath party officials at Eid prayers in Al-Hamad
"Syria will triumph against the Western-American plot
being supported by the Wahhabis and takfiris," or
Sunni Muslim hardliners, said imam Sheikh
Mohammed Kheir Ghantus, echoing the regime's
long-standing rhetoric.
Assad, from the minority Alawite community of an
offshoot of Shia Islam, has characterised the conflict
as a battle against a foreign "terrorist" plot aided by
the West and its allies in the region, led by Sunni
powerhouse Saudi Arabia.
Press reports said on Sunday that British and German
spies were involved in covert operations to help
Syrian rebels.
"We can be proud of the significant contribution we
are making to the fall of the Assad regime," an
official from Germany's BND foreign intelligence
service told the weekly Bild am Sonntag.
The paper said German spies were stationed on a
boat off the Syrian coast and also active at a Nato
base in Turkey, a one-time Syrian ally whose
government is now staunchly opposed to Assad and
is sheltering Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels.
Jordan struck
Britain's Sunday Times said British intelligence was
helping rebels launch successful attacks on
government forces with information gathered from
their listening posts in nearby Cyprus.
It said the most valuable intelligence had been about
the movements of troops towards Aleppo, the scene
of fierce fighting.
Jordan meanwhile said four rockets fired from
neighbouring Syria fell inside its northern border area,
wounding a 4-year-old girl and sparking a letter of
"We are in touch with the Syrian sides to determine
what happened," Information Minister and
government spokesperson Samih Maaytah said.
"The Jordanian government summoned the Syrian
ambassador in Amman and gave him a letter of
protest. Jordan rejects what happened and will make
sure it does not occur in the future," Maaytah said.
Zayed Hammad, head of the prominent Jordanian
Ketab and Sunnah charity which cares for more than
50 000 Syrian refugees near the border, said the
rockets fell on Torrah border village, "injuring several
UN mission expires
Jordan currently hosts more than 150 000 Syrian
refugees. Many of them come under Syrian army fire
as they flee to the kingdom, whose troops provide
covering fire.
The UN observer mission ended at midnight on
Sunday, just days after new international envoy
Brahimi was named to replace Kofi Annan.
Brahimi, a veteran Algerian diplomat, has won
support from the West as well as China and Russia,
and even Syria itself, although the White House said
it would be seeking clarifications on the terms of his
"A civil war, it is the cruellest kind of conflict, when a
neighbour kills his neighbour and sometimes his
brother, it is the worst of conflicts," Brahimi said in an
interview with France 24 television in Paris.
"There are a lot of people who say that we must
avoid civil war in Syria, me I believe that we are
already there for some time now. What's necessary is
to stop the civil war and that is not going to be easy."
Turkish authorities on Sunday crossed the Syrian
border to distribute food and other supplies to
hundreds of Syrians who have been forced from their
homes and are massed at the border, emergency
officials in the region said.
What began in March 2011 as a peaceful uprising has
descended into an armed revolt with fighting
reaching the two main cities of Damascus and Aleppo
and atrocities reported on both sides, but particularly
by the regime.
The West is demanding that Assad step down as part
of any political deal but is opposed by Syria's
traditional allies in Moscow and Beijing which see it
as foreign-imposed regime change.

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