DAMASCUS (AFP) - Syria will hold presidential elections that are expected to return President Bashar al-Assad to office on June 3, the country's parliamentary speaker said Monday.
As lawmakers met to hear the election date announced, mortar fire hit near the parliament building, killing at least two people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The deaths underlined the fact that Syria's first presidential election - after constitutional amendments did away with the old referendum system - will be held amid a devastating civil war.
The Observatory, a Britain-based monitoring group relying on sources inside Syria, says more than 150,000 people have been killed since March 2011, and rebels hold vast swathes of territory.
"Elections for the president of the Syrian Arab Republic for Syrians resident in the country will be held on June 3 from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm," Mohammad al-Lahham said during a special session of parliament.
Voting for Syrians living outside the country will take place on May 28, he added, saying candidates for the presidency could register to run from Tuesday until May 1.
Assad, who became president after his father Hafez passed away in 2000 and whose current term ends on July 17, is widely expected to run and win another seven-year term in office despite the conflict.
New election rules require candidates to have lived in Syria for the last decade, effectively preventing key opposition figures in exile from standing for office.
Syria's conflict began with peaceful protests demanding democratic reforms but soon escalated into a civil war after the government launched a brutal crackdown on dissent.
Nearly half of Syria's population has been displaced, and violence continues to ravage many parts of the country, even reaching into the heart of the capital, which has regularly come mortar fire from opposition fighters on the outskirts of Damascus.
The government has not laid out how it plans to hold elections under the circumstances.