BEIRUT, Lebanon — Rebels in southern Syria killed more than 20 people in a mortar attack on a tent put up as part of presidential elections next month, antigovernment activists said on Friday.
The overnight attack appeared to be the first by opponents of President Bashar al-Assad directly targeting the election and raised the specter of further rebel assaults on rallies and other events.
The vote, scheduled for June 3, will almost certainly grant Mr. Assad another seven-year term. Mr. Assad’s supporters have trumpeted the election as an expression of the popular will, while the United States and the Syrian opposition have dismissed it as political theater.
The Syrian government has not made clear how it plans to collect votes in the vast areas of the country beyond its control, nor how the millions of refugees in neighboring countries will make their voices heard.
The attack on the tent in the southern city of Daraa came after days of threats by rebel groups directed at such gatherings. A few days before, one group, the Sajeel Artillery Brigade, posted a photo on its Facebook page of a pro-Assad rally in Daraa, saying that it wanted to “ask the opinion of the revolutionary street on these events held in Daraa by the regime’s thugs.” By Friday, the post had more than 150 comments, most calling for strikes.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group that tracks the conflict from Britain through a network of contacts in Syria, said the mortar attack had killed 11 civilians, six members of a pro-government militia and four others who were unidentified. Many others were wounded, the group said.
Qaisar Habib, an opposition activist close to the Nusra Front, Syria’s Qaeda affiliate, confirmed the strike and said the tent had been erected two weeks ago in a government-controlled part of the city. While acknowledging there were civilians in the area, he said the tent was a “legitimate target” because those running the election were mostly pro-government militiamen.
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(via NY Times)