Assad visits Damascus church before Christmas


Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has made a rare public appearance with a pre-Christmas visit to a church in an eastern suburb of Damascus often targeted by rebel artillery.

Assad and his wife Asma on Friday evening attended Christmas preparations at Our Lady of Damascus, just two kilometres (around a mile) from the rebel-held Jubar district regularly bombarded by regime forces.

In pictures shared on his official Facebook page, Assad is seen wearing jeans and a black jacket beside his wife as they watch a choir rehearse and take selfies with members of the congregation.

Assad, a member of the Shia Muslim Alawite sect, presents himself as a protector of minorities in Syria.

He says that his administration is an example of tolerance that contrasts with the behaviour of militants, including the Islamic State group that has seized large swathes of the war-torn country.

His visit coincided with the UN Security Council on Friday backing a resolution for a roadmap to end the civil war in Syria that has killed more than 250,000 people in nearly five years.

Members of the country’s fractured opposition have reacted coolly to the plan, calling it unrealistic and insisting that Assad must go for peace to happen.