Assad makes first public appearance

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iol pc wld assad mosque REUTERS Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (2nd R) attends Eid Al Fitr prayers at al-Hamad mosque in Damascus in this handout photograph.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Sunday appeared in a mosque to mark the end of Ramadaan - his first public appearance since July 18 when a bomb attack killed four of his key aides.

State television showed footage of al-Assad and said he was performing prayers of Eid al-Fitr, a major Muslim festival that follows the fasting month of Ramadaan, in al-Hamad Mosque in the capital Damascus.

The last time al-Assad appeared in public was on July 4 when he made an address in parliament.

Al-Assad was accompanied by senior officials, but they did not include his deputy, Farouk al-Sharaa, who according to some reports has defected to the opposition.

Al-Sharaa's office on Saturday denied such reports, saying that he “did not think at any moment about leaving his home country.”

On the ground, al-Assad's troops and rebels Sunday continued fighting in the northern city of Aleppo, reported an opposition group.

The two sides clashed in the restive district of Seif al-Dawla in the southern suburbs of Aleppo near the Turkish border, added the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Aleppo, Syria's biggest city and commercial hub, has been the scene of fierce fighting for more than three weeks now, with neither side making long-lasting gains.

Similar clashes were reported between government forces and rebels in the dissident province of Idlib in northern Syria. No casualty figures were reported.

The violence comes two days after veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi was named the new international envoy for Syria, replacing former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, who quit as mediator two weeks ago.

Brahimi, a former Algerian former minister, has hoped the United Nations Security Council would be more united behind him, as he sets out to try to broker an end to the 18-month conflict.

More than 17 000 people have been killed in Syria's conflict, the UN said. The opposition puts the toll at around 23 000. - Sapa-dpa

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