Assad makes rare public appearance

Syria's state-run TV has aired footage of the Syrian president performing Eid prayers in a mosque in Damascus.

It is the first appearance in public by Bashar Assad since a July 18 bombing in Damascus killed the country's defence minister and three other top security officials, including the president's brother-in-law.

Assad was shown praying at the city's Rihab al-Hamad Mosque to mark the start of Eid al-Fitr, a three-day holiday that follows the holy month of Ramadan. 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 country's civil war with almost daily fighting in some districts of the capital between security forces and rebels seeking to topple Assad.

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 and said al-Sharaa "did not think, at any moment, of leaving the country."

He did not appear in the footage at the mosque with Assad.