A man carries a young girl who was injured in a reported barrel-bomb attack by government forces in Aleppo, yesterday. Photo: AFP
Syrians voted as fighting raged in a presidential election in which Bashar al-Assad is looking to tighten his grip as his forces battle rebels in a devastating three-year war.
Assad is facing two little-known challengers and is expected to win, despite a massive rebellion and a war which the UN has warned is likely to drag on even longer as a result of the vote.
In Damascus, the atmosphere was surreal, with people voting as the sound of shelling and explosions punctuated pro-Assad songs heard playing in the streets.
Activists in flashpoint areas said the violence raged, with rebels raining mortars on parts of the capital firmly under government control and the air force striking opposition areas.
Assad and his British-born wife Asma cast their ballots in central Damascus, the president wearing a dark blue suit, the first lady a white blouse, a black business skirt and stiletto heels.
Billboards glorifying Assad cover the streets of Damascus although inside polling stations photographs of his two challengers -- Hassan al-Nuri and Maher al-Hajjar -- had been put up alongside the president's.
There was no voting in the roughly 60 percent of the country outside government control, including large areas of second city Aleppo.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (C) watching on as his wife Asma casts her vote at a polling station in central Damascus. Photo: AFP
Polling was held in the heart of third city Homs, in ruins after rebel forces pulled out last month following a destructive two-year siege.
At least 162,000 people have been killed in Syria since an uprising against Assad's rule erupted in March 2011, and nearly half the population have fled their homes.
None of the voters questioned by AFP said they had voted for Assad's opponents.
The government said more than 15 million Syrians were eligible to take part in the election, on top of the 200,000 who voted abroad last week.
Assad allies Iran, North Korea and Russia sent observers to monitor the election, but the opposition and Nato have both dubbed it a "farce".
The United Nations has warned the election will only complicate efforts to relaunch peace talks after two rounds of abortive negotiations in Switzerland this year.
The exiled opposition has made Assad's departure from power a precondition for any settlement and his re-election for a new seven-year term is likely to scupper any hope of getting them back to the negotiating table any time soon.