Syrian state TV reported that an election tent filled with dancing pro-Bashar al-Assad supporters in the southern Syrian city of Daraa was attacked by mortars, according to Associated Press. Thirty-nine people were killed and 205 wounded and Syrian TV showed several dead bodies of children.
The attack is feared to be the first in a series leading up to the June 3 presidential election, which will undoubtedly grant Assad another seven-year term. The U.S. and opposition leaders have criticized the election, calling it a farce.
Although elections are weeks away, campaigning is well underway, with Assad supporters waving Syrian flags and and banners almost daily, according to AP
Speaking on Syrian television, Daraa's Gov. Khaled al-Hannus said the attack was "a crime by terrorists meant to prevent Syrians from taking part in the presidential elections." He added that “every honorable citizen” in Daraa would vote for Assad.
While the group responbsible for the attack has not been confirmed, an activist on the ground told AP a group under the Free Syrian Army (FSA) umbrella fired the mortar.
Qaisar Habib, an opposition activist with ties to the Nusra Front, Syria’s al Qaeda branch in Syria, confirmed the strike to the New York Times. Jabhat al-Nusra does not fall under the FSA umbrella, although both oppose the regime.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, known for its detailed reports from the ground, said at least 11 civilians were killed. Even though civilians were present at the attack, Habib maintained that the tent was “legitimate target for our fire.” Mainly because the election tents were set up by pro-regime forces who will also be running the balloting.
Assad has not been seen in public since April 20.