AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
ALEPPO: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made a rare public appearance for prayers today marking the end of Ramadan but activists said his forces were pressing on with a blitz of rebel areas.
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. Across the country, Syrians joined prayers and staged demonstrations for Eid, taking place for the second year under the shadow of an unrelenting conflict that activists say has now claimed 23,000 lives since March last year.
Despite the religious festival, government forces pounded several rebel strongholds, including the main northern battleground of Aleppo, a watchdog said, on the day UN observers were winding up their troubled mission.
A girl and a boy were among nine people killed, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. It also reported at least 137 deaths yesterday, and said 42 bodies had been dumped in Al-Tal town in Damascus province, in a gruesome sign of escalating brutality.
Meanwhile, reports said British and German spies were involved in covert operations to help Syrian rebels in their increasingly bloody fight to topple Assad’s embattled regime.
“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 Bild am Sonntag. The paper said German spies were stationed off the Syrian coast and also active at a NATO base in Turkey.
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 has been about the movements of troops towards the flashpoint commercial hub of Aleppo, which is now partly controlled by rebels and is the scene of some of the fiercest fighting.
Assad, from the minority Alawite community, 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 Muslim powerhouse Saudi Arabia.
“Syria will triumph against the Western-American plot being supported by the Wahhabis and takfiris (Sunni Muslim religious hardliners),” declared the imam at the Al-Hamad mosque, where a smiling Assad joined the prayers along with top regime