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Assad makes rare appearance amid Islamic State assault

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad, second left, prays during Eid-al-Adha at a mosque in Damascus on Saturday.

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad, second left, prays during Eid-al-Adha at a mosque in Damascus on Saturday.   | Photo Credit: Uncredited

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Syrian state television airs footage of the Syrian President praying at a Damascus mosque to mark the Muslim festival of Eid-al-Adha

Syrian President Bashar Assad made a rare public appearance on Saturday by attending prayers at a mosque in the capital, Damascus, marking the beginning of an important Muslim holiday as an offensive by Islamic State near the border with Turkey intensified.

Syrian state television aired footage of Mr. Assad praying at the al-Numan Bin Bashir mosque along with government officials and the country’s Grand Mufti Ahmad Badreddine Hassoun. Most Muslims around the world on Saturday began marking the three-day holiday of Eid-al-Adha, or festival of sacrifice.

Mr. Assad has been making rare public appearances amid the country’s civil war, which activists say has killed more than 190,000 people. His last appearance was in July, when he attended prayers for the Eid-al-Fitr, which marks the end of fasting during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.

To the north, intense fighting continued on the outskirts of the town of Kobani. Islamic State fighters are trying to capture the town to open a direct link between their positions in Aleppo and their stronghold of Raqqa to the east.

Kobani and its surrounding areas have been under attack since mid-September, with militants capturing dozens of nearby Kurdish villages. The assault, which has forced some 160,000 Syrians to flee, has left the Kurdish militiamen scrambling to repel the militants’ advance into the outskirts of the town, also known as Ayn Arab.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighting concentrated on Saturday on the southwestern edge of the town, adding that members of the Islamic State group are shelling Kobani.

An Associated Press reporter monitoring the fighting from the Turkish border said the sound of heavy machine gun fire could be heard from Kobani. It was not immediately clear if jihadis were able to breach the town, defended by fighters of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPK.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 1:34:14 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/world/syrian-president-bashar-assad-makes-rare-appearance-amid-islamic-state-assault/article6471399.ece

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