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Syria elections postponed as Damascus insists it is coronavirus-free

More than 100,000 people have died in Syria's conflict [Getty]

Date of publication: 15 March, 2020

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Syria's presidential office on Saturday said the vote will be pushed back to May 20, from the original date of April 13.
Syria on Saturday confirmed its parliamentary elections scheduled for next month would be postponed as part of measures to protect the war-battered country against the coronavirus epidemic.

The president's office said on its official social media accounts that the vote will be pushed back to May 20, from the original date of April 13.

In other "social distancing" steps adopted by Damascus, which has not to date reported any case of the disease, weekly Friday prayers in mosques have been suspended as well as prayer gatherings.

The polls, to be held across government-run areas, are the third such elections in Syria since the March 2011 start of its deadly conflict.

Read more: What can the world do to spare Syria from a disastrous coronavirus outbreak?

Assad's forces today hold more than 70 percent of Syrian soil following Russian-backed victories against rebels and jihadists since 2015.

On Friday, the government closed schools, universities and technical colleges until April 2. Sports and cultural events have been cancelled and the smoking of shisha pipes banned.

Unlike Syria, its five neighbours - Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey - have all reported cases of coronavirus.

The COVID-19 virus, which was first detected in China's Wuhan in December, has killed more than 5,845 people worldwide, while over 157,000 infections have been confirmed.

Idlib, Syria's last opposition bastion which has been targeted by an aggressive state military campaign, is at an alarming risk of undergoing a coronavirus outbreak.

The province saw nearly one million civilians displaced due to the violent conflict, with many living in exposed makeshift camps.

Syria's "fragile health systems may not have the capacity to detect and respond" to an epidemic, World Health Organisation spokesman Hedinn Halldorsson told AFP on Sunday.

Local authorities have announced a week-long closure of schools and universities in Idlib, while educational centres have been shut down indefinitely in Kurdish-administered northeast Syria.

Syrian forces and Russian warplanes have heavily bombarded the region since December, killing nearly 500 civilians, the Observatory says, and forcing nearly a million to flee, according to the United Nations.

A fragile ceasefire came into effect in the northwest earlier this month, and Turkish and Russian officials have agreed to start joint patrols in Idlib.

The postponement of the election came as Syria's brutal conflict entered its 10th year on Sunday with President Bashar al-Assad's regime consolidating its hold over a war-wracked country with a decimated economy where foreign powers flex their muscle.

At least 384,000 people have since died, including more than 116,000 civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said Saturday.

The conflict has displaced more than 11 million people internally and abroad.

Thanks to the military support of Russia, Iran and Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, Assad has clawed back control of over 70 percent of the war-torn country.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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