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In brief: Shell hits Assad backers at rally, killing dozens

SATURDAY, MAY 24, 2014

BEIRUT – In the first attack to target a campaign event, a mortar shell slammed into a tent packed with supporters of President Bashar Assad, killing 39 people and wounding 205 others, Syrian state TV said Friday. The shelling underscored deep fears in government strongholds that rebels will escalate attacks in an attempt to disrupt balloting next month.

Assad is widely expected to win a third, seven-year mandate in the vote scheduled for June 3, but the West and opposition activists have criticized it as a farce since it is taking place despite a raging civil war.

The 49-year-old president himself has not made a public appearance in more than a month and was not at the gathering struck by the mortar shell late Thursday in the southern city of Daraa.

Many campaign gatherings have been held in so-called “election tents” where nationalistic songs are played and supporters mingle.

State TV showed pictures of Assad supporters dancing in a campaign tent in Daraa. It then showed people lying dead and wounded on the ground, including several children.

Ahmad Masalma, an opposition activist in Daraa, said six such tents – festooned with posters of Assad and Syrian flags – have been set up in the past week in the city.

He criticized the celebratory mood in the tents.

“They have loud music and Dabka,” he said, referring to a traditional foot-stomping dance. “It’s very provocative and an insult to the blood of martyrs.”

Kerry plans to testify once on Benghazi

WASHINGTON – Secretary of State John Kerry will testify before Congress next month about the deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya, a one-and-done appearance that the State Department insists is enough to answer questions and means he could avoid the newly formed select committee.

In a letter to the House Oversight chairman, the department said Friday that Kerry could appear on June 12 or June 20 to discuss the Obama administration’s cooperation with the panel in providing emails and other documents related to the Sept. 11, 2012, attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

The department said that appearance “would remove any need for the secretary to appear before the select committee to answer additional questions.”

Frederick Hill, a spokesman for the Oversight Committee, said Chairman Darrell Issa had accepted the offer for June 12.


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