BEIRUT (AP) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made a rare public appearance Saturday by attending prayers at a mosque in the capital, Damascus, marking the beginning of an important Muslim holiday as an offensive by Islamic State group near the border with Turkey intensified.
Syrian state television aired footage of al-Assad praying at the al-Numan Bin Bashir mosque along with government officials and the country’s Grand Mufti Ahmad Badreddine Hassoun. Most Muslim around the world on Saturday began marking the three-day holiday of Aidiladha, or feast of sacrifice.
Al-Assad has been making rare public appearances amid the country’s civil war, which activists say has killed more than 190,000 people. His last appearance was in July, when he attended prayers for the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of fasting during the holy Muslim month of Ramadhan.
To the north, intense fighting continued on the outskirts of the town of Kobani. Islamic State group fighters are trying to capture the town to open a direct link between their positions in Aleppo and their stronghold of Raqqa to the east.
Kobani and its surrounding areas have been under attack since mid-September, with militants capturing dozens of nearby Kurdish villages. The assault, which has forced some 160,000 Syrians to flee, has left the Kurdish militiamen scrambling to repel the militants’ advance into the outskirts of the town, also known as Ayn Arab.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighting concentrated Saturday on the southwestern edge of the town, adding that members of the Islamic State group are shelling Kobani.