A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on June 10, 2018 shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during an interview with a journalist in the capital Damascus. / AFP PHOTO / SANA / Handout
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad attended a mosque in the country’s west on Friday for prayers marking the end of Ramadan, in a rare appearance outside Damascus, images on his social media showed.
“President Assad performs the Eid al-Fitr prayer at the Sayyida Khadija mosque in the city of Tartus,” a caption read, referring to the feast marking the close of the Islamic holy month.
In one picture, he was seen praying alongside the country’s top Muslim cleric and its Islamic endowments minister.
Another image showed him surrounded by dozens of worshippers who appeared to be offering him Eid greetings.
Assad has rarely appeared in public outside Damascus since Syria’s conflict broke out more than six years ago.
He led Eid al-Fitr prayers in the central city of Hama last year, his first public appearance in Syria outside the capital since the same festival in 2016.
The coastal city of Tartus is the site of a naval base belonging to Assad’s key backer Russia, which has helped his forces retake swathes of opposition-held territory.
Like neighbouring Latakia province, from which Assad’s clan hails, Tartus is a stronghold of his Alawite sect.
The region has largely escaped the destruction that has blighted other areas of Syria but it has suffered a heavy human toll from military service in the conflict that has killed 350,000 people since 2011.
The war began with anti-government protests that were brutally repressed by security forces.
Russian and Iranian-backed regime forces now control around 60 percent of Syrian territory.