Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has ordered a constitutional referendum later this month that he says would end nearly five decades of single-party rule, as government troops continued to assault rebellious areas nationwide.
If approved, the February 26 ballot would usher in a new charter that dilutes the ruling Ba'ath party's status as "the leader of the state and society." State media said Wednesday the draft also permits a president to be elected to two seven-year terms, setting a limit for the first time in decades.
Meanwhile, activists said Syrian troops mounted a new offensive in Hama, the country's fourth largest city. Rights groups said government forces were firing at residential neighborhoods with anti-aircraft guns mounted on armored vehicles.
In Homs, 40 kilometers to the south, witnesses said the government's nearly two-week assault continued, and an explosion hit an oil pipeline near the city's rebel-held Sunni Muslim district of Baba Amr. In the capital, Damascus, elite troops searched houses and made arrests.
|Join the conversation on our social journalism site - Middle East Voices. Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter and discuss them on our Facebook page.|