Middle East

Syria conflict: Officials deny Assad motorcade attacked

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Media captionThe BBC's Jim Muir says there is no reason to believe the footage from Syrian state television showing Mr Assad at a mosque is fake

Syria's information minister has denied rebel claims that they attacked President Bashar al-Assad's convoy.

Reports that rockets hit his motorcade were "dreams and illusions", Omran Zoabi told Syrian state TV.

Rebels said they fired mortars at his convoy as it headed towards the Anas bin Malek mosque in the Malki area, where the president has a residence.

Pictures showed Mr Assad unharmed at a prayer service at a Damascus mosque to mark the end of Ramadan.

Earlier, Islam Alloush of the militant Liwa al-Islam Brigade, told Reuters news agency the president's motorcade was hit as it drove to the mosque in the Syrian capital.

Opposition activists and residents also reported what seemed to be the sound of several incoming mortar explosions in the early morning, says the BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut.

Image caption State media released this image of President Assad and Syria's Grand Mufti

However it is not clear if the reported blasts in the district were connected to the presidential visit. President Assad drove his own car to the mosque, Mr Zoabi told state TV.

In his third public appearance in little more than a week, the president was seen alongside Syria's grand mufti, for Eid al-Fitr prayers, which are usually held an hour or two after sunrise. In previous years, Mr Assad has been seen attending them early in the morning.

Image caption The pictures aired on state TV carried a "live" caption only momentarily

It was unclear whether the pictures of the president aired on Syrian state television were pre-recorded, analysts at BBC Monitoring said. For a brief moment they carried a "live" caption, which then swiftly vanished.

It is possible that the footage was pre-recorded, analysts said, as the reports that the president's convoy was struck while travelling to the mosque had come around one hour previously.

'Different convoy'

All roads leading to the Rawdha neighbourhood of Damascus, where the presidential office is, were closed for security reasons before the incident, Syrian opposition sources told the Dubai-based al-Arabiya television station.

Firas al-Bitar, a rebel leader, told al-Arabiya that 17 mortars had targeted the presidential convoy. The opposition had been given advance information on Mr Assad's movements, he asserted.

But another of the president's opponents, Wahid Sagar, told al-Arabiya the president might have been in a different convoy to one which reportedly came under attack.

Image caption Activists say government forces shelled Raqqa in eastern Syria on Wednesday

On Wednesday, Syrian government forces claimed to have killed more than 60 rebels in an ambush near Damascus.

Military sources quoted by the state news agency Sana said the victims were insurgents in the jihadist group, al-Nusra Front. They had been planning an attack on a military post, they said.

The news came as rights group Amnesty International released satellite images of Aleppo, one of Syria's biggest cities, showing how clashes between government and rebel forces had devastated built-up areas.

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