Syrian rebels yesterday said they targeted Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s motorcade heading to a Damascus mosque to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, but state television showed him unharmed and the government denied he had been attacked.
The Tahrir al-Sham rebel brigade, a unit of the Free Syrian Army, said it fired several artillery shells toward al-Assad’s convoy in the heart of the capital and that at least some hit their target.
If confirmed, the attack would be one of the most direct against al-Assad in two years of conflict which have pitched mainly Sunni Muslim rebels against the Alawite president.
Rebels have targeted al-Assad’s residences in Damascus and a bombing in the capital last year killed four of his inner circle, but there have been no reports of al-Assad himself coming under fire.
Video footage distributed by the Tahrir al-Sham rebels showed smoke rising from what it said was the Malki District, where al-Assad and his close aides have homes. Other activists also reported rocket fire into the area.
The Syrian government denied the reports.
“The news is wholly untrue,” Syrian Minister of Information Omran Zoabi said.
Firas al-Bitar, head of the Tahrir al-Sham Brigade, said his fighters had carried out reconnaissance of the route of al-Assad’s motorcade and fired 120mm artillery toward the convoy early yesterday.
“The attack rattled the regime, even if al-Assad was not hit,” he told reporters from an undisclosed location in Damascus. “There were two motorcades, one containing al-Assad and a decoy. We targeted the correct one.”
Bitar’s brigade operates mainly in the Ghouta region on the eastern outskirts of the capital.
Another Tahrir al-Sham official said al-Assad’s forces fired rockets and artillery “like rain” on the region in response to the reported attack.
Following the statement, Syrian state television showed footage of al-Assad praying alongside ministers and other top officials. It said the footage was from yesterday’s Eid prayers at the Anas bin Malek Mosque in Malki.
Assad appeared unharmed and smiled at worshipers as he entered the mosque.
Islam Alloush of the Liwa al-Islam, another rebel brigade, told foreign media earlier yesterday that rebels fired rockets which struck al-Assad’s motorcade.
“Al-Assad was not hit, but the information we have based from sources within the regime is that there were casualties within his entourage,” Allooush said.
Other activists also reported rockets were fired into the Malki area, which was sealed off by security forces.