Syria’s parliament over the weekend approved rules that will make it hard for President Bashar Assad’s rivals to challenge him in the election due in June. The move comes as Assad’s forces made major gains in a town near the Lebanese border – around the third anniversary of the start of the civil war.
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In the Arab media there is no longer talk of an accord or military resolution; more bloody battles are expected amid alleged weakness in both the Arab world and the international community.
Assad has yet to formally declare that he is running for a third term. In Syria, where the Baath Party dominates, Assad received more than 97 percent of the vote in the 2007 election.
According to a bill, presidential candidates must be permanent residents of Syria for the past 10 years and at least 40 years old. They may not hold any other citizenship, must be the children of Syrian citizens, must be married to a Syrian citizen and have no criminal record. They must also obtain the signatures of 35 members of parliament.
Syrian opposition leaders say the bill is clearly tailored for Assad, even if they admit there is no clear challenger.
Meanwhile, the Arab media has detailed the recent battles near the Lebanese border, particularly in the town of Yabroud north of Damascus, one of the last rebel strongholds along the border with Lebanon.
According to reports, Assad loyalists have made major advances in Yabroud, home to many Alawites, the sect to which the Assad family belongs.
A Syrian army official said 13 rebel commanders had been killed in Yabroud. If Assad’s forces fully take the city, they will have an easier time halting the supply of equipment to the rebels from Lebanon; the town sits on the Damascus-Homs highway.
In the Syrian civil war, more than 146,000 people have been killed, hundreds of thousands have been wounded and millions have been uprooted. There are more than 2 million refugees in neighboring countries.
In one suggestion by the Syrian opposition, the rebel forces would announce a unilateral cease-fire in an attempt to reduce the pressure on civilians. This might also give the major powers a chance to engage the regime in a fresh dialogue.
Other opposition voices are calling for the powers to take a more aggressive stance against Assad. Otherwise, they say, Syrians will find themselves without hope on the fourth anniversary of the start of the war.