Bashar al-Assad has made his first appearance in public after being sworn in as Syria’s president for a third term, attending prayers at a Damascus mosque to mark the start of the Muslim holiday of Eid.
Assad was filmed by Syrian TV on Monday at the prayer in al-Kheir mosque in the capital with Syria’s grand mufti, Mohammad Hassoun, and senior officials in the government.
Muslims around the world are celebrating Eid al-Fitr, a three-day feast that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Despite a war that has raged on for more than three years now, residents in Damascus are trying to maintain the traditions of Eid, when people wear new clothes and children get new toys.
Traditional sweets shops were open in Damascus’ business district to sell Eid specialties such as kunafa, maamul and baklawa, while Whirling Dervishes performed at the opening of a bazaar offering foodstuffs and clothes.
Locals say that prices at the bazaar were lower than in general markets in a bid to help people shop for Eid. Prices have risen sharply in the country as a result of the war.
Protests against Assad and explosions have rocked central Damascus on numerous occasions during the conflict, and heavy sounds of shelling continue to resound night and day across the city as the regime battles rebels in the suburbs.
But the city itself has mostly stayed out of the rebels’ reach, sparing it the deadly clashes and heavy destruction that ravaged the commercial hearts of Syria’s two other major cities, Aleppo and Homs.
In Syria’s north and east, Eid celebrations were overshadowed by clashes between Syrian troops and self-declared jihadist fighters.
The Syrian army on Sunday recaptured a gas field east of the central city of Homs that was seized by fighters from Islamic State group earlier this month.
Activists told Al Jazeera the recapture of Shaer field dealt a blow to the Islamic State.
“The Shaer field is an important military base that the army used to protect nearby villages that are loyal to Assad,” opposition activist Mahmoud al-Homsi told Al Jazeera via Skype from Homs.
In Syria’s northeast, the Islamic State seized an army position in the Syrian city of Hasakeh, following three days of battle, where at least 85 regime troops were killed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
At least 1,100 soldiers and pro-Assad fighters have been killed since the Islamic State intensified its attacks against government forces this month, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
On another front, Syrian rebels in the central Hama province captured Khattab and Rahbeh villages, taking over arms depots, activists reported.
Amateur video posted by activists on YouTube showed some of the weapons seized by the rebels in Hama, including rockets, ammunition, and mortars.
Syria’s war has killed more than 170,000 people since it broke out in March 2011, and forced nearly half the population to flee their homes.