Mortars hit Syrian president’s neighbourhood
Government rejects rebel claim of presidential motorcade being targeted, after district where Assad lives is hit.
Rockets and mortar bombs hit the Damascus neighbourhood of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as rebels demonstrated their ability to strike one of the most secure areas of the capital.
At least two rebel brigades on Thursday claimed to have hit the presidential motorcade as it was ferrying the president to morning prayers in the heavily guarded Malki district, where the president lives and works.
A Syrian television station linked to the regime said two mortar shells landed in Malki, injuring two guards – but the government was adamant the shells did not hit the presidential convoy. Assad was later shown on state media leading prayers at Anas bin Malik mosque in the neighbourhood.
A spokesman for the rebel group Liwa al-Islam, one of two that said they had carried out the attack, told Al Jazeera he was sure they had hit the convoy with rockets.
“We have monitors in the area who confirm that the attack hit some of the president’s guards,” he said. “It also hit checkpoints in the area. It was at 7:20 in the morning.”
The spokesman said Liwa al-Islam had no information on whether Assad was in the motorcade but the group said that its sources in the Syrian government said that several people had been killed in the attack.
Omran Zoabi, the Syrian information minister, rejected claims the convoy had been hit. “I confirm to you that, of course, the news is completely untrue,” he said.
State media later published pictures of Assad leading prayers at the mosque.
Reports say Assad may have been scheduled to perform Eid al-Fitr prayers to mark the end of Ramadan.
Al Jazeera’s Nisreen el-Shamayleh, reporting from Beirut in neighbouring Lebanon, said local residents had heared shelling in the area close to Assad’s home around dawn.
Videos posted to YouTube, that Al Jazeera cannot confirm, purported to show smoke rising over Malki.
“This is the area where Assad lives and works,” she said. “It is a very upscale and supposedly safe neighbourhood, which is still under the control of the government.”
Another armed group, Tahrir al-Sham rebel brigade, said that it had fired mortar bombs into Malki and that they had landed near the Chinese and Italian embassies and close to the headquarters of Assad’s Baath party.