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Syria's Assad emerges in public to mark Eid al-Fitr

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There has also been a steady stream of high-level defections by government officials, diplomats, and generals, though Assad's inner circle and military have largely kept their cohesive stance behind him. And the regime has been unable to fully subdue rebel challenges in the two major cities, Damascus and Aleppo.

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 yards from the presidential palace.

Residents of Damascus said security forces blocked streets and encircled several central mosques in the capital from 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. He was pictured seated cross-legged on the mosque floor, wearing a suit and tie, and later, standing and briefly shaking hands with officials before leaving.

"All this points to a state of confusion and lack of confidence at the leadership level," said Syria-based activist Mohammad Saeed. "It shows they don't have security in the capital under control."

Rumors of another defection

Assad's appearance comes amid much speculation on the whereabouts of Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa, who was said by some members of the Free Syrian Army to have defected to the opposition. On Saturday, his office denied the reports. Al-Sharaa was not shown in the footage at the mosque with Assad, but observers said the two rarely attend the same functions for security reasons.

The last time Assad appeared in public was on July 4 when he gave a speech in parliament.

Since then, there has been a sharp escalation in the civil war with almost daily fighting in some districts of the capital.

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