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War-scarred Syria marks bloody Eid holiday

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Syria's state TV aired footage of President Bashar al-Assad attending Eid al-Fitr prayers in Damascus [Reuters]Two children were among at least 19 people reported killed in shelling by the Syrian army and clashes with rebels as violence continued on the first day of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday.

The children were killed on Sunday by continued shelling on the town of Maaret al-Numan in Idlib province, activists said.

Troops also bombarded the besieged city of Rastan, in the central province of Homs, and the eastern city of Deir Ezzor.

Children across the Muslim world were set to receive new clothes and gifts for Eid, but in Syria there was no respite from the bloodshed which the activists say has killed more than 23,000 people since March last year.

"This is how we celebrate Eid!" chanted a crowd of protesters who took to the streets of Kafr Zeita, in the central province of Hama, according to amateur video posted on YouTube by activists.

At the protest, children and adults held up Syrian independence flags and chanted slogans against President Bashar al-Assad.

Elsewhere, clashes raged in the Saif al-Dawla and Izaa districts of the northern city of Aleppo, a key battleground of the conflict since rebels seized large swathes from July 20.

Also in Aleppo, fierce fighting continued to rage between rebel fighters and government forces for control of the international airport, a strategic target for both sides.

Opposition forces say they're making gains in the northern city, and hope to capture the airport - an important strategic target.

At least 137 people were killed across Syria on Saturday, including 63 civilians, 31 rebel fighters and 43 soldiers, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

'Last chance to stay alive'

Amid the violence, Syria's state-run TV aired footage of Assad performing Eid prayers in a mosque in Damascus on Sunday.

It was his first appearance in public after a bombing in the Syrian capital last month that killed the country's defense minister and three other top security officials.
 
The last time Assad appeared in public was on July 4 when he gave a speech in parliament.

Assad's appearance comes amid much speculation on the whereabouts of Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa, who was said by some members of the Free Syrian Army to have defected to the opposition.

On Saturday, his office denied the reports and said al-Sharaa "did not think, at any moment, of leaving the country".

Al-Sharaa did not appear in the footage at the mosque with Assad.

Meanwhile, Syrian helicopters dropped leaflets over Aleppo urging residents not to shelter rebels and warning the Free Syrian Army it had one last chance to surrender.

Some of the leaflets dropped late Saturday, in what rebels and residents said was a first, were designed as official-looking checkpoints passes for  supporters of the rebels wishing to surrender.

"The holder of this pass is allowed to cross security forces checkpoints to  surrender. The holder of this pass will be well treated and reunited with his  family after verifications are conducted," the leaflet read.

Other more basic leaflets printed on pink or white paper urged the rebels  to put down their weapons.

"Your last chance to stay alive is to give up your weapons because there is nothing you can do against the Syrian army," read one leaflet, in part

UN mission

The latest development came as the last 100 of the 300 UN monitors prepared to leave the country on Sunday.

The UN observers' departure comes after the Security Council agreed to end the mission and support a small new liaison office that will support any future peace efforts.

Veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, will take over from Kofi Annan as the UN-Arab League Joint Special Representative in the Syria conflict.

In an interview on Sunday, Brahimi said that for him, it was "too early to have a say" on whether Assad should step down.

"I could not talk about such a matter or any other matters unless I arrive in New York or Cairo to see what is the plan to be carried out," said Brahimi.

Brahimi had been quoted by news agencies on Saturday as saying that it was too soon for Assad to step down, something he denies saying.

But reports of the alleged comments caused fury among Syrian dissidents and the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) described the comments as "unacceptable".

"The revolutionary Syrian people were shocked and dismayed by Mr Lakhdar Brahimi's statements," the SNC said in a statement.

"We call on the international envoy - who has not yet consulted with any Syrians on his appointment or his mission - to apologise to our people for taking this unacceptable position," it added.

Brahimi said that he's asked the SNC for an apology.

"The should call and ask me to make sure if I said so," he said.


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