BEIJING, Aug. 20 (Xinhua) -- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appeared in public Sunday, the first day of Eid al-Fitr prayers, while UN observers started to leave the unrest-torn country as their faltering mission officially expires at midnight.
Live footage aired by Syria's state TV showed that al-Assad, flanked by top officials and ministers, performed at al-Hamad mosque in Damascus the special prayers of Eid al-Fitr, one of the most important feasts on the Muslim calendar that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
This is al-Assad's first public appearance since July's blast that struck the national security headquarters and killed four of his deputies, including his brother-in-law.
The embattled president is facing international pressure to step down as the 17-month political crisis shows no signs of ending.
The crisis is getting more complicated as the once-peaceful anti-government movement has dramatically turned into bloody armed insurgency, with reports of al-Qaida presence in the country joining the fight against government troops.
Reports of clashes, kidnappings and in some cases revenge crimes have become daily occurrences.
Earlier on Sunday, six members of the UN Supervision Mission to Syria (UNSMIS) departed for the Lebanese capital of Beirut, sources told Xinhua, saying the remaining 100 observers will all leave Syria by Aug. 23.
According to the sources, seven military observers as well as five civilian ones will stay in the country to run a new office, whose establishment was agreed upon last Thursday at a UN Security Council's meeting.
The UNSMIS, starting in April, was hobbled from the very beginning as both conflicting parties seemed determined to eliminate one another and held the other responsible for the faltering UN efforts to solve the crisis peacefully.
The United Nations has decided not to extend the mission's mandate, but agreed to establish a civilian office in Syria, which is considered as a continued UN presence in the country in the midst of the bloody unrest.
Also on Sunday, the Syrian Information Ministry denied media reports circulated on Arab TV stations that Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem was named as vice president.
In a terse statement, the ministry said the reports from "some Zionist stations" saying Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem "wrote on his twitter page that he has replaced Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa is untrue."
The ministry even denied that al-Moallem has an account on Twitter.
Some news TVs earlier cited a tweet allegedly posted by al-Moallem revealing that al-Assad has replaced al-Sharaa with him.
The pan-Arab al-Arabyia TV has repeatedly claimed that al-Sharaa has fled to Jordan. The reason behind the intense media focus on him was not immediately clear. His office issued two statements over the past month refuting the allegations.
The tense situation in Syria also spilled into its neighbors Sunday, when four shells fired from the country landed on the Jordanian territory.
A Jordanian girl received shrapnel wounds after four shells fell on the border area with Syria due to clashes between Syrian government forces and the opposition, said Samih Maaytah, minister of state for media affairs and communications.
Maaytah noted that Jordan will follow up with the issue with the Syrian side, adding that the Jordani government has summoned the Syrian ambassador in Amman and handed him a letter of protest.
More than 150,000 Syrians have fled to Jordan since the unrest started in early 2011.
DAMASCUS, Aug. 19 (Xinhua) -- Clashes and protests hit various parts of Syria on Sunday, the first day of Eid al-Fitr, one of the most important feasts on the Muslim calendar that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Syria's SANA state news agency said government troops are hunting down "mercenary terrorists" at Saif al-Dawla, Bustan al- Qasr, Bawabat al-Qasab, Souk al-Souf and Qastal al-Harami in northern Aleppo province, with scores of "terrorists" already killed. Full story
DAMASCUS, Aug. 19 (Xinhua) -- Syrian Ministry of Information denied on Sunday the media reports circulated on Arab TV stations that Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem was named as vice president.
In a terse statement, the ministry said the reports from "some Zionist stations" saying Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem "wrote on his twitter page that he has replaced Vice President Farouq al- Sharaa is untrue." Full story