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Syria: no attack on Assad motorcade

Syria has denied rebel claims that they hit President Bashar Assad's motorcade in a rocket and mortar attack in the capital Damascus.

Rebels said their missiles hit an upmarket district of Damascus where Mr Assad attended prayers to mark the start of a major Muslim holiday in a rare attack in the high security area.

At least two Syrian rebel brigades claimed they hit the motorcade in the Malki district of the capital, but Syrian state TV broadcast images of the Syrian leader attending prayers and the information minister denied reports that the president had been attacked. However, it was not possible to determine if the footage of Mr Assad praying was filmed before or after the attack.

Mr Assad has a residence and an office in the district, which has largely been sheltered from the shelling and battles that usually rage in the city's impoverished suburbs.This was the Syrian leader's third public appearance in over a week as his regime tries to capitalise on recent gains on the battlefield against rebels fighting to oust him from power.

Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi dismissed the attack claims as "rumours" and told state TV that Mr Assad drove his own car to the Anas bin Malik Mosque, located in the heart of Malki.

In the state TV broadcast, Mr Assad, dressed in a suit, was seen praying alongside Syria's grand mufti at the start of Eid al-Fitr, the three-day holiday that ends the holy month of Ramadan. The Eid prayers are typically an hour or two after sunrise. In previous years, Mr Assad has been seen attending them early in the morning.

The Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights, which closely monitors the fighting in Syria, said only three mortar shells hit Malki early in the morning. There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage in the shelling, which was confirmed by Malki residents. Rami Abdul-Rahman, the Observatory's head, said he had no confirmation that the motorcade had been hit and was sceptical of the reports.

An Islamic rebel brigade, Liwaa Tahrir al-Sham, said it fired several 120 mm shells in the direction of the motorcade after carrying out careful surveillance of its route.

The claim was made on the group's Facebook and Twitter pages and could not be independently confirmed. The brigade's head, Firas al-Bitar, told Al-Arabiya TV that the motorcade had been hit but that it was not certain whether Mr Assad himself had been harmed. Capt. Islam Alloush of the Liwa al-Islam, another rebel brigade, also claimed responsibility, saying there were casualties among Mr Assad's entourage.

Syria's state news agency said several mortar shells also hit the capital's suburb that is home to the golden-domed Shiite shrine of Sayeda Zeinab, killing five people and injuring 12 others. The shrine, just a few kilometres (miles) southeast of Damascus is named after the Prophet Mohammed's granddaughter. The shrine is popular with Iranian worshippers and tourists.

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