DAMASCUS, Syria, Aug. 19 (UPI) -- Syrian President Bashar Assad made a rare public appearance Sunday at a Damascus mosque, the first since a bomb killed several regime officials, state TV said.
Assad was seen praying at the Hamad mosque in Damascus at the start of Eid al-Fitr, a three-day holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan. It was the first time he had been seen in public since before the July 18 bombing in Damascus in which top security and defense officials were killed, the official Syrian news agency SANA reported.
Assad's foreign minister, Waleed al-Muallem, and Minister of Religion Abdul al-Sattar al-Sayid were shown with Assad at the mosque, but not his deputy, Vice President Farouq al-Shara, who officials alleged defected to Jordan during the weekend. The allegations were dismissed by Syria Saturday, but a former Syrian minister who defected earlier this year said al-Shara had tried to leave the country and was placed under house arrest.
Abdo Hussameddin, former deputy oil minister, told the pan Arab network al-Arabiya "[al-]Shara's positions [are] well known, He has been trying to leave Syria. But there are a series of circumstances that prevent him from leaving, especially the fact that he has been under house arrest for some time." He said all senior government ministers in Syria are kept under close surveillance by the regime.
Al-Shara, 73, is the most powerful Sunni Muslim figure in the minority Alawite-led Assad regime and has served in high-ranking government posts for nearly 30 years, the Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star said.
On Sunday, U.N. observers in Syria prepared to wind up their mission in the country as their mandate ended, the Lebanese newspaper said.
On the eve of their departure, the newspaper reported U.N. chief observer Genera Babacar Gaye accused Assad and the rebels of failing to protect civilians in the 17-month conflict.
"Both parties have obligations under international humanitarian law to make sure that civilians are protected," Gaye told reporters in Damascus ahead of the mission's end at midnight Sunday. "These obligations have not been respected."