BEIRUT (AP) — Syria's president has made his first public appearance since last month's bombing that killed four of his top security officials.
Bashar Assad was seen on state TV praying at a mosque just a few hundred yards from the presidential palace, marking the start of a Muslim holiday.
Residents of Damascus say security forces surrounded several central mosques in the capital, possibly to confuse people about where Assad would attend the traditional holiday prayers.
Elsewhere in Syria, thousands today staged anti-government protests in mosques and cemeteries after special prayers marking the three-day holiday. Amateur video posted by activists on the Internet shows a large group of worshippers in Damascus chanting that "Assad is the enemy of God."
Assad's appearance comes amid speculation on the whereabouts of Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa. He's been said by some members of the opposition to have defected. His office yesterday denied the reports.
Meanwhile, the head of an opposition group is repeating his call for international powers to enforce a no-fly zone that would keep Syrian regime aircraft from being used against rebels.
110-v-30-(Mark Lavie (lah-VEE'), AP Middle East correspondent)--Syria's president has made a rare public appearance. More from AP Middle East Correspondent Mark Lavie in Cairo. (19 Aug 2012)
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075-r-08-(Sound of gunfire during street battles, between rebels and government forces)--Sound of gunfire during street battles between rebels and government forces. (19 Aug 2012)
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GRAPHICSBANK: Bashar Assad headshot, as Syria President, Damascus, Syria, Syrian official news agency photo on flag texture, partial graphic (19 Aug 2012)
APPHOTO KH104: Syrians salvage what they can of their belongings from a building that was hit during a Syrian government airstrike in Aleppo, Syria, Sunday, Aug. 19, 2012 (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra) (19 Aug 2012)
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APPHOTO MH103: A Syrian girl carrying balloons with the colors of the revolutionary Syrian flag plays among women during Eid Al Fitr prayer, in front of the Syrian embassy, in Amman, Jordan, Sunday, Aug. 19, 2012. Muslims around the world celebrate Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan, the Muslim calendar's ninth and holiest month during which followers are required to abstain from food and drink from dawn to dusk. (AP Photo/Mohammad Hannon) (19 Aug 2012)
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