Supporting President Assad’s continued hold on power, Syrian officials and the People’s Assembly put out news on Thursday about forthcoming elections.
State media features the Assembly’s discussion of the articles of the bill for the elections of President, Parliament, and local councils this spring, “securing the voters’ right to elect their representatives freely and fairly” and “organizing all required measures to maintain freedom of practice, safety, integrity, transparency and control of elections”.
The bill nominally allows a range of candidates to challenge Assad for the Presidency, in a ballot which must take place between 60 and 90 days before Assad’s term ends on July 17.
However, it mandates that candidates must have resided continuously in the Syria for the last 10 years, a provision which will exclude many prospective challengers.
The Syrian insurgency and many in the opposition, including those at the Geneva talks in January-February, have insisted that Assad cannot claim legitimacy through the elections. They are committed to a transitional governing authority in which the President steps aside.
United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi warned the vote would jeopardize efforts to negotiate an end to the conflict: “If there is an election, my suspicion is the opposition, all the oppositions, will probably not be interested in talking to the government.”
Syria’s Ambassador to the UN, Bashar al-Jaafari, maintained on Thursday that the elections were an internal affair “that no one has the right to talk about”, declaring “some UN members work against the Syrian government and obstruct its mission” and “have played a role in instigating terrorism inside Syria”.
Insurgents Break Siege in Battle Near Khan Shaykhoun in Idlib Province
Insurgent PR video showing delivery of supplies to the besieged opposition-held town of Khan Shaykhoun in southern Idlib Province:
Opposition fighters have cleared more than half of the 23 regime checkpoints that had cut off the town and ensured supplies to Assad forces further north in the province.
Stalemate Near Yabroud in Regime’s Qalamoun Offensive
Insurgents strike a tank during the Qalamoun offensive of Syrian forces:
State media have again proclaimed an advance to the east and northeast of Yabroud, the city northeast of Damascus targeted in a month-long offensive.
Insurgents have said there has been no movement on the Rima Farms front, contested for weeks between the two sides, but news is currently limited by a media blackout.
Attack on a sugar mill:
Insurgents moving through the area:
A destroyed regime armoured vehicle:
Syrian Foreign Minister in Hospital for Possible Heart Bypass
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem was rushed to a Beirut hospital on Thursday evening for a suspected blocked coronary artery, Lebanese security officials and a pro-Assad Lebanese lawmaker said.
The 73-year-old diplomat led the regime delegation at the Geneva II conference last month.
A source said it was “very possible” that doctors will carry out “open-heart bypass surgery”. Lebanese lawmaker Assem Qanso, who visited al-Moallem on Friday, said the Minister is “in stable condition” and will undergo an operation.
Activists: Islamic State of Iraq Completes Withdrawal from Idlib and Lattakia Provinces
Activists said on Friday that the Islamic State in Iraq and as-Sham, battling Syrian insurgents, has completed its withdrawal from Idlib and Lattakia Provinces in northwestern Syria.
ISIS has been reinforcing its positions in Aleppo and in Raqqa Province in north-central Syria, following an ultimatum earlier this month from the Islamist faction Jabhat al-Nusra to cease fire or “face explusion” from the country.
Tension between ISIS and insurgent groups erupted into widespread fighting in early January. Insurgents had pushed ISIS out of many positions in Idlib and Aleppo Provinces, but ISIS maintained its control of Raqqa, the largest city taken from Assad forces in the Syrian conflict.
Video: Eating Grass and Weeds to Survive in Homs
Claimed footage of people in the besieged Qarabees section of Homs cutting grass and weeds for food, after they run out of rice and bulgur stocks:
Kafranbel Protest Criticizes Split Among Gulf States
Protesters in Kafranbel in Idlib Province portray Saudis and Qataris fighting with each other, as Iranians steal Syria:
Trouble among the Gulf States — who have been prominent supporters of the Syrian insurgency — flared last week when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain withdrew their Ambassadors from Qatar.
One of the reported causes for the split is Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, including in Syria. Riyadh and Doha have been seen as backers of different factions in the Syrian opposition and insurgency, leading to tensions in political and military strategy in the fight against President Assad.
Video of today’s rally in Kafranbel:
Syrian Clerics Criticize Freed Maaloula Nuns for “Affront to Christians”
Syrian clerics have criticized the 13 Maaloula nuns freed by insurgents last weekend in return for the release of 153 women and children from Syrian prisons.
The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East said the statements of some of the nuns “do not reflect the stances of the Church but are motivated by the long period of captivity”.
The women, taken by insurgents from the ancient Christian town of Maaloula in December amid fighting and regime shelling, have angered President Assad’s supporters by saying that they were always treated well by the Islamist faction Jabhat al-Nusra. They also refused to condemn the actions of the insurgents, who said the “kidnapping” was initially to protect the nuns from the regime’s attack on Maaloula.
The Patriarchate said that “the statements have sparked reverberations that went beyond the event… and amounted to an affront to the Christian presence whose national and humanitarian role is clear to everyone”. It said the nuns, held with three assistants in the city of Yabroud, should “not resort to language that does not express our ethical and cultural values”.