Assad celebrates Prophet birthday amid ongoing bloodshed
DAMASCUS - Syria's embattled President Bashar al-Assad was Thursday shown on state television attending prayers at a mosque in a northern district of Damascus to mark the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) birthday.
The president was shown in a live broadcast kneeling in Al-Afram mosque flanked by Syria's Grand Mufti Ahmad Hassoun, the highest Sunni religious authority in the country, and the religious endowments minister.
The minister, Mohammed Abdel Settar, made a call for dialogue following the prayers, addressing "every citizen of this beloved country: opposition or loyal, spiteful or tolerant, partisan or independent, Muslim or Christian, man or woman.
"Do not waste this chance by hurting and destroying Syria and tearing the unity of your nation to pieces, betraying what has been entrusted to you.
"Come back to the guidance of your beloved Prophet. The president has initiated this opportunity. The hour of salvation has come and the doors of dialogue shall be opened."
Abdel Settar had earlier called for "million man prayers" at mosques on Friday to appeal for the re-establishment of security in the country, rocked by a deadly anti-regime uprising since March 2011.
Assad's opponents have traditionally called for anti-regime rallies each Friday, the Muslim day of rest and weekly prayers.
After the brief ceremony in Al-Afram mosque attended by dozens of religious clerics and laymen, the president smiled and seemed at ease as a crowd gathered around him to offer greetings.
Assad was shown being escorted to a waiting car in the street and stepping into the driver's seat, after which the cameras panned upwards to show the mosque and surrounding area.
The last time Assad appeared in public was for a rare speech to supporters on January 6, in which he dismissed calls for his removal and said he had no partners with whom to negotiate for an end to the 22-month conflict.
He offered a roadmap to end the war while branding the opposition "slaves" of the West and urging foreign powers to stop backing armed rebels.