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                                        Volume. 11983

Syria’s presidential candidates kick off election campaign
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c_330_235_16777215_0___images_stories_edim_01_Syria99(48).jpgCampaigning began Sunday for Syria's June 3 presidential election expected to return Bashar Assad to power, as the government marked a symbolic victory with the exit of rebels from Homs.
 
In Damascus, campaign posters lauding Assad hung on shopping streets and in public gardens, in the run-up to the country's first multi-candidate presidential vote, AFP reported. 
 
Voting will only be held in territory under government control, excluding large areas held by rebels, and refugees who fled through unofficial crossings are barred from voting.
 
Assad, who is competing for his third seven-year term, came to office in 2000, after the death of his father and predecessor Hafez al-Assad, who had been in power since 1970.
 
He faces two competitors, both largely unknown, who qualified from a pool of 23 who sought to run against Assad.
 
Maher Abdel Hafiz Hajjar is an independent MP and former communist party member from the country's second city Aleppo, and Hassan Abdullah al-Nuri is a Damascus businessman who was a member of the internal opposition tolerated by Assad's government.
 
In the capital, a few posters for Nuri's campaign could be seen, calling for a "battle against corruption" as well as a "free economy" and the "return of the middle class."
 
His campaign reels have also aired on state television.
 
But Assad's campaign posters dominate the landscape, with dozens showing the Syrian flag overlaid with the word "together" and his signature.
 
In a public garden near the commercial center of Salhieh, photos of the president hung alongside pictures of Lebanon's Hezbollah chief and Assad ally Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah, and Hafez al-Assad.
 
In the Sabaa Bahrat neighborhood, one billboard hung "by citizens of Syria" proclaims, "We won't close our eyes until we have said yes to the ophthalmologist," a reference to Assad, an eye specialist by training.
 
"We vote for you, 2014," it adds.
 
Elsewhere, posters read "Our Bashar, we will not accept a president other than you. We have chosen you, you have our loyalty."
 
Outside the capital, posters declaring "with our blood, we elect Bashar al-Assad" are hung at the country's border with Syria, and his campaign billboards line the highway leading to Damascus.
 
Assad's campaign has also began online, under the slogan "Together," with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram accounts all set up to promote his run.
 
The Facebook account had garnered 65,000 likes by Sunday morning, and the Twitter account nearly 1,000 followers.
 
The campaigning begins just days after Assad's government claimed a symbolic victory in the central city of Homs, where it retook the Old City after a deal granting rebels there safe passage out.
 
Under the deal, the last of around 2,000 fighters and civilians left the Old City on Friday, and the government moved back in.
 
Just one neighborhood of the central city now remains under opposition control.
 
In another development, an al-Qaeda splinter group has wrested control of key parts of the eastern Syrian province of Deir al-Zor from other rebel groups, activists said on Sunday,according to Reuters.
 
More than 100,000 civilians have fled the province following weeks of intense clashes between Islamist insurgents, the anti- Assad Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.
 
The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) - which started as an offshoot of al-Qaeda in Iraq but has since been disowned - took neighborhoods of Deir al-Zor city from the Nusra Front, Syria's official al-Qaeda affiliate, this weekend, according to the Observatory.
 
Some 230 militants have been killed over the past 10 days by the infighting, it added. Although ISIL made headway in the fight for Deir al-Zor, opposition groups rarely hold territory for long before clashes resume.
 

U.S. sends antitank missiles to Syria rebels
 
Meanwhile, the United States is delivering antitank missiles to Syrian terrorists in an extremist-marked battlefield that has already killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people.
 
The BGM-71 TOW (Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided) missiles are surfacing in Syria as part of a "pilot program" to boost the morale of the downhearted militants, The Times Herald reported, citing a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
 
The sophisticated missiles are designed to destroy tanks and blow up reinforced bunkers.
 
The delivery of the deadly weapons began in March and is part of a program that could lead to larger flows of sophisticated weaponry into Syria, said the former official.

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