A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) yesterday shows Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad being escorted by local workers at the industrial area of Syria’s west-central town of Hisya. – AFP

DAMASCUS: A Syrian former minister and a member of the Damascus-tolerated opposition will face Bashar Al-Assad in this month’s presidential election, the constitutional court said yesterday. The Assad-appointed body approved only three out of 51 applications to stand in the May 26 ballot, among them the 55-year-old president himself, widely expected to win a fourth mandate.

The court’s president said in a press conference broadcast on state TV that Abdallah Salloum Abdallah, a state minister from 2016 to 2020, had been approved to run for president. The third candidate was named as Mahmoud Marei, a member of the so-called “tolerated opposition” long described by exiled opposition leaders as an extension of the regime. All 48 other applications were ruled out for “failing to meet constitutional and legal requirements”, the court president said without elaborating.

They have until May 7 to appeal. Applicants needed to garner support from at least 35 members of parliament, each of whom is only allowed to back one candidate. Exiled opposition members are de facto ruled out by an electoral law that stipulates candidates must have lived in Syria continuously for at least the past decade. The election will be the second since the start of a decade-long conflict that has killed over 388,000 people and forced more than half of Syria’s pre-war population from their homes.

Damascus has invited lawmakers from allied countries such Russia, Iran, China, Venezuela and Cuba to observe the electoral process. In New York, Western members of the UN Security Council, led by the United States, France and Britain, on Wednesday rejected the outcome of the May 26 poll in advance, a position denounced by Russia as “unacceptable”. Assad, who has already been in power for 21 years, was elected by referendum in 2000 and 2007. For the first multi-candidate poll in 2014, only two candidates besides Assad, out of 24 applicants, were allowed to run.

Meanwhile, a blast at a jihadist-run arms depot in Syria’s northwestern Idlib region killed two fighters and a civilian yesterday, a war monitor said. The explosion blew the warehouse to smithereens and set fire to a nearby field, an AFP correspondent who reached the scene near the town of Fuaa reported. The blast destroyed “a warehouse run by jihadists and where missiles and explosive materials were manufactured,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The British-based monitoring group said two jihadists were killed in the explosion, as was a woman who lived nearby. It was not immediately clear what caused the explosion, but the war monitor said it was most likely caused by an air strike. The Observatory could not immediately specify which organization ran the warehouse, but said it was not under the control of the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham group dominating Idlib. – AFP