DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — The Latest on the Syrian civil war (all times local):
Syria’s President Bashar Assad has voted in parliamentary elections being held in government-controlled parts of the country.
The presidency’s Facebook page said Assad and his wife Asma cast their ballots at the Assad Library in Damascus on Wednesday. He did not make any comments.
Parliamentary elections in Syria are held every four years, and Damascus says the vote is constitutional and separate from peace talks in Geneva.
Members of the opposition have denounced the process, which is taking place amid a raging civil war, and have called for a boycott.
Around 3,500 government-approved candidates are competing after more than 7,000 others dropped out. Polls close at 7 p.m. but could remain open longer if turnout is high. Results are expected Thursday.
A Turkish news agency says shells fired from Syria have hit southern Turkey, the fourth such cross-border incident in less than a week.
The private Dogan news agency says the shells struck two areas of the city center of Kilis Wednesday morning, triggering panic. The agency said the shells landed on empty land causing no casualties. Police were dispatched to the affected area.
Turkey’s military systematically retaliates to rockets or shells that land on Turkish territory in line with its rules of engagement.
On Tuesday, Turkish artillery units fired at Islamic State group targets in Syria after a salvo of rockets hit the center of Kilis, killing one person and wounding seven others.
The wider province of Kilis borders areas in Syria that are controlled by the Islamic State group, Syrian Kurdish militia or anti-government Syrian rebels.
Syrians in government-controlled areas headed to polling stations Wednesday to elect a new 250-member parliament that is expected to serve as a rubber stamp for President Bashar Assad.
Shortly after the stations opened at 7 a.m. (0400 GMT) people began turning up. Around 3,500 government-approved candidates are competing after more than 7,000 others dropped out.
Parliament elections in Syria are held every four years, and Damascus says the vote is constitutional and separate from the peace talks in Geneva aimed at ending the war.
But the opposition says it contributes to an unfavorable climate for negotiations amid fierce fighting that threatens an increasingly tenuous cease-fire engineered by the United States and Russia.
Western leaders and members of the opposition have denounced the process as a sham and a provocation that undermines the Geneva peace talks.
In the Syrian capital, voters said they fully supported holding the elections on time.
“I feel proud today because the elections are a national and democratic duty any honest citizen should practice,” said Wahid Chahine, a 54-year-old government employee, after casting his ballot at a Damascus polling station.
He said the voting is constitutional and should not be postponed, despite millions of other Syrians being unable to take part.
“”I hope in the next elections all Syrians will be able to vote and that Syria would be free from all terrorists,” he added.
Marah Hammoud, a 21-year-old journalism student from the central city of Homs, said it is important at this particular time in Syria for people to be able to choose their representatives.
“We want elected officials who care about the people, who can help end this war and control prices,” she said. “We live on this hope.”
The election, in which soldiers are being allowed to vote for the first time, will be conducted only in areas under government control.
Voting stations have been set up in 12 of Syria’s 14 provinces. The northern province of Raqqa is controlled by the Islamic State group, and the northwestern province of Idlib is controlled by its rival, the al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front, as well as other insurgent factions. The government has no presence in either province.
Polls close at 7 p.m. (1600 GMT), but could stay open longer if turnout is high. The results are expected Thursday.