Syria’s Assad makes rare visit to front-line area
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — In a rare public appearance, Syrian President Bashar Assad visited displaced civilians Wednesday in a front-line suburb of the country’s capital, state television reported.
The visit to a shelter for displaced people in Adra, northeast of Damascus, was Assad’s first public appearance outside the capital since August. It comes nearly four months before his seven-year term as president officially expires. Syrian officials say the presidential elections will be held on time.
Assad has suggested he would run again but hasn’t confirmed whether he’ll seek re-election. The poll must be held between 60 and 90 days before Assad’s term ends on July 17.
“The state will continue to fight terrorism and terrorists who displace people from their homes and commit ugly crimes against them,” Assad said in the television report. His government refers to rebels as terrorists.
Photos released by the president’s office showed Assad speaking to women, several of whom were carrying children. State television quoted Assad as vowing to care for the displaced.
Also Wednesday, the Syrian parliament met to discuss a new election law that allows candidates to run for president and allows, at least in theory, a multiparty political system in Syria. It was not immediately clear when the lawmakers would vote on the bill.
The country has been ruled by the Baath party since it seized power in a 1963 coup. Since, it’s been dominated by Assad and his late father Hafez.
Under their rule, previous elections asked voters to cast “yes” or “no” ballots on whether they supported parliament’s nomination of them as sole candidates for the presidency.
“Members of parliament will discuss every paragraph of the draft law that covers presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections,” legislator Fayez Sayegh told The Associated Press by telephone.
Syria’s conflict, now entering its fourth year, has killed more than 140,000 people. It has become increasingly sectarian, pitting Sunni rebels against Syria’s patchwork of minorities, including Christians, Shiites and Alawites, the sect of Assad.
It is also marked by infighting as rebels wage war against their one-time allies, the al-Qaida breakaway group called the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
On Wednesday, Islamic State fighters attacked the village of Shuyoukh, near the Syrian town of Jarablous on the Turkey-Syria border, killing at least 20 people, activists reported. They said dozens more were missing.
Rami Abdurrahman of the Britian-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 23 people were killed but he thought it was likely more died. He said Islamic State fighters raided the village during clashes with other rebels, and using guns and knives, killed a mix of fighters and civilians.
A Facebook page for Jarablous listed the names of 20 people believed killed, and a reporter who lives near the area, Zidane Zenglow, said residents told him that Islamic State fighters tossed corpses into the nearby Euphrates river.
Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue and Diaa Hadid in Beirut contributed to this report.