BEIRUT — Syria's President Bashar Assad attended Eid prayers in a mosque in Damascus on Sunday, his first appearance in public after a bombing in the Syrian capital last month that killed the country's defense minister and three other top security officials.
Elsewhere across Syria, thousands held anti-government protests in mosques and cemeteries to mark Eid al-Fitr, a holiday when pious Muslims traditionally visit graves and pray for the dead.
The three-day holiday marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which was particularly deadly in Syria as the 18-month-old uprising reached the country's two largest cities, Damascus and Aleppo.
Amateur video posted by activists on the Internet showed a large group of worshippers in a mosque at al-
Zahera district in Damascus shouting, "There is no God but Allah and Assad is the enemy of God," while
clapping their hands over their heads.
"May God protect the Free Syrian Army!" they also cried, referring to the main rebel group fighting to topple
Syrians also protested in many other parts of the country, demanding freedom and the ouster of the regime.
Opposition groups reported fierce artillery shelling that targeted a main cemetery in the rebel-held town of
Rastan, north of the central city of Homs, as people visited the graves of dead relatives, but the reports
could not be independently confirmed.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said one woman was killed in the shelling on Rastan.
Meanwhile, Syrian state TV broadcast footage showing Assad praying at the city's Rihab al-Hamad Mosque, a
relatively small mosque in al-Muhajireen district only few hundred meters (yards) from the presidential
palace, to mark the start of Eid.
Residents of Damascus said security forces blocked streets and encircled several central mosques in the capital as of Saturday evening, possibly to confuse people about where Assad would attend the traditional holiday prayers.
Unlike previous years, Assad was not shown arriving or leaving in his convoy — only seated on the mosque floor, wearing a suit and tie, and later, standing and briefly shaking hands with officials before leaving.