Syria's Bashar Assad Calls for Presidential Elections
The Syrian presidential elections will be held on June 3, current President Bashar Assad announced Monday, just one week after he claimed the three-year civil war was going in his favor.
Western and Gulf Arab countries that back Assad's opponents have called plans for an election a "parody of democracy" in the wake of the announcement.
Later Monday, the European Union (EU) also condemned the elections.
Syrian elections are "conducted in the midst of conflict, only in regime-controlled areas and with millions of Syrians displaced from their homes," the EU noted, calling them "a parody of democracy." The statement also said the elections "have no credibility whatsoever and undermine efforts to reach a political solution."
Monzer Akbik, a representative of the Western-backed National Coalition opposition group, told Reuters the election was a sign Assad was unwilling to seek a political solution to the conflict.
"This is a state of separation from reality, a state of denial. He didn't have any legitimacy before this theatrical election and he will not after," Akbik said. "We do not know what actor he is putting up as an opponent but we are not taking this seriously."
Last week, Assad claimed that the three-year civil war - which has seen more than 150,000 people killed - was turning in his favor.
"This is a turning point in the crisis, both militarily in terms of the army's achievements in the war against terror, and socially in terms of national reconciliation processes and growing awareness of the truth behind the (attacks) targeting the country," he claimed.
"The state is trying to restore security and stability in the main areas that the terrorists have struck," said Assad, adding, "We will go after their positions and sleeper cells later."
International Pressure Heats Up
The US also announced Monday that it was opening on investigation into claims that Syria launched a chemical weapons attack on the city of Hama, according to the Financial Times.
The move follows both escalating reports that several more chemical weapons attacks have been launched against the Syrian people, as well as a public statement from French President Francois Hollande suspecting that rumors of more attacks were true.
Last week, rights groups claimed that the Syrian government dropped "explosive barrels that produced thick smoke and odors and led to cases of suffocation and poisoning" on the village of Kafr Zita. Damascus blamed the Al Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front for the attack, which allegedly killed two people.
Earlier this month, Israeli officials also claimed that another chemical attack had been launched in Syria - this time, in Damascus's eastern Harasta neighborhood.
The reports are the latest in several claims that chemical weapons attacks in Syria have continued despite the OPCW/UN operation.
In February, opposition groups claimed the government had killed at least a dozen people with chemical weapons in the town of Deraya.
One month earlier, a group of activists and refugees went to the White House over claims of another gas attack in Damascus; the US has not acted on the charges.