Khatib visits Aleppo villages as Syria opponents vote for council


Opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad voted on Sunday to elect 29 provincial council members to run rebel-held areas in the northern province of Aleppo, organizers and participants told AFP.

"For the first time, Aleppo will have a freely elected provincial council. We hope the whole of Syria will have a free election soon," candidate Yehia Naanaa from the bombed-out town of Hreitan told AFP.

The vote is being held in the Turkish town of Gaziantep because of security problems in Aleppo itself.

"The vote is full of challenges. Because of insecurity in Aleppo, we couldn't hold the vote there. Also, no candidate could campaign properly," Naanaa said.

Aleppo city has been swept by deadly conflict since July last year, and much of the province, particularly the north and the west, has suffered from violence for even longer.

Large swathes of Aleppo have slipped out of regime control, causing a security vacuum in many areas.

Meanwhile, the chief of the Syrian National Coalition, for the first time, visited rebel-held areas near the embattled city of Aleppo in northern Syria.

Mouaz al-Khatib met Sunday with Syrians living in two suburbs of Aleppo that are controlled by the opposition.

A coalition statement says the goal of his trip to Manbah and Jarablus was to inspect the living conditions of residents there.

The opposition controls large swathes of land around Aleppo, and several areas within the city while the government maintains controls of others.