DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — A Syrian official on Monday called on Syrians to vote in the coming presidential election, calling it a "genuine opportunity" to express their will amid the country's 3-year-old conflict.
Syrians will vote Tuesday in their country's first multicandidate presidential elections. President Bashar Assad is all but guaranteed to win a third seven-year term in a vote denounced by the Syrian opposition and its Western allies as a mockery.
Syrian rebels have threatened to disrupt the voting in government-held areas. Thousands of people already have fled the northwestern city of Idlib amid fears of attacks.
The comments by Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi, made on Syrian state television, coincided with stepped-up rebel attacks on government-held areas in the northern city of Aleppo that have killed and wounded dozens of people over the past three days.
The heavier-than-usual bombardment appears aimed at scaring voters.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday that 50 people have been in the Aleppo attacks since Saturday. Al-Zoubi said 20 people were killed and 80 wounded "within 10 minutes" on Saturday alone.
Aleppo, Syria's largest city and once its commercial center, has been carved into rebel- and government-controlled areas since opposition fighters launched an offensive in mid-2012.
Al-Zoubi and activists said opposition fighters shelled Aleppo with the so-called Hell Cannon, a crude, locally made weapon used by rebels. It fires gas cylinders filled with explosives and causes wide damage when it hits, although it is widely inaccurate.
The Hell Cannon first surfaced last year but in recent days, rebels have stepped up their use of the weapon to shell Aleppo.
The government has touted the vote as the political solution to the conflict that began in March 2011 and has killed more than 160,000 people in the past three years. The voting will be held only in government-held territory and is being boycotted by the opposition.
Election campaigning ended Friday and workers were seen taking down banners, posters and pictures of the three candidates on the streets of Damascus. While Maher Hajjar and Hassan al-Nouri — little known to the wider public in Syria before declaring their candidacy in April — were often frequently seen at campaigning events, Assad has not made any public appearances in recent weeks.
Speaking about the vote, al-Zoubi predicted a huge turnout for Tuesday, adding that Syrians will send a "message to the whole world ... that they reject terrorism, bloodshed and destruction of their country."
Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.