20 April 2014, 10:55

Violence intensifies as Syria braces for presidential elections

Violence intensifies as Syria braces for presidential elections

A string of car bombings have recently rocked pro-government districts of the country's central province of Homs, amid a crushing offensive the Syrian government troops have unleashed against a few remaining rebel-held districts in the historic quarter of Homs. The state news agency SANA said a car bomb exploded Saturday near a mosque in the al-Jandali neighborhood of Homs, leaving undisclosed number of casualties.

It added that one person was killed and 10 others wounded when the rebels fired a mortar shell that slammed into a hospital in the government-loyal neighborhood of al-Zahra in Homs.

The same neighborhood was struck Thursday by the blast of a car bomb, which killed six people and injured 26 others.

On Friday, 14 people were reportedly killed and over 20 others wounded, when a booby-trapped car went off near a mosque in the pro-government district of Ekrima in Homs.

Over the weekend, the government troops continued their progress against the rebels in the old Homs city, namely in the neighborhoods of Bab Hud and Wadi al-Sayeh, destroying rebels' positions and killing many of them, according to the local media.

Homs, Syria's third largest province, was one of the first provinces to sympathize with anti-government movement in Syria. The rebels there have taken considerable swathes of land, but the government troops have stripped them of these territories over the past year.

Several neighborhoods of Homs remained loyal to the government, pushing the rebels to unleash retaliatory attacks against them every time the government troops advance against opposition-held areas.

In tandem with the government forces' progress in central and southern Syria, militant groups, including al-Qaida-linked ones, have unleashed a wide-scale offensive on government controlled areas in the western part of the northern city of Aleppo.

Meanwhile, Syria's permanent representative to the United Nations, Bashar al-Ja'afari, told reporters on Friday in New York that around 2,000 foreign rebels and 170 civilians are still in the old city of Homs, Xinhua reports.

The recent military offensives against the eastern and northern fringes of Damascus and the old city of Homs are aimed to strengthen the government's grip on the southern and central region ahead of the presidential elections, whose campaign is scheduled to start on April 21, observers say.

Government officials expressed optimism that President Bashar al-Assad still enjoys popular support despite the three-year-old conflict.

The opposition groups slammed the plans to hold the elections, saying that such process, under the current circumstances, would "blow up" the political process in Syria.

Assad himself, whose second term will expire on July 17, has not yet announced whether he will run for re-election, but he has reportedly expressed interest in running again for a third seven- year-term.

Assad was unanimously nominated by the Syrian parliament to be president in 2000 following the death of his father, former President Hafez Assad. He was re-elected without opposition in 2007 to a second term.

Observers believe that Assad is likely to be re-elected as no one has so far shown intention to run against him, adding that the radical rebels' infighting, mainly in eastern Syria, would also play in the hands of the government troops.

A general election bill adopted recently by the Syrian parliament stipulates that any candidate for presidency must have lived in Syria for 10 consecutive years prior to nomination, a condition that cannot be met by the exiled opposition, whose members have been living outside Syria for years.

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