Bomb in tanker explodes near UN staff's hotel
A BOMB exploded yesterday in central Damascus near the Dama Rose hotel, where UN monitors are based.
The explosion, caused by a device planted on a fuel tanker, occurred in a car park serving several military facilities. Some of the hotel’s windows were shattered and smoke billowed into the sky from a trade union building across the street. Three people were reported lightly wounded, none of them UN staff.
A spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army’s Ahfad al-Rasoul (Descendants of the Prophet) brigade, Abu al-Noor, said it targeted a meeting of senior officers and he vowed to carry out more attacks. The bombing was also claimed by Al-Mustafa Brigade.
Deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad, who promptly visited the site, said the incident was “a criminal act aimed at distorting Syria’s image” and urged the international community to “work hand-in-hand against terrorism”.
“Our primary goal is to secure the observer mission team and thank God no one from this mission has been hurt since it arrived in Syria,” he added.
Opposition sources said at least 30 people were killed and many wounded when a Syrian war plane bombed a hospital in the rebel- held city of Azaz, in the north near the Turkish border.
According to the local rebel Free Syrian Army brigade, four of the 11 Lebanese Shia pilgrims kidnapped by a Sunni fundamentalist group in May were killed during army shelling.
This report was denied by Turkish officials, who said some of the abductees were in Turkey.
A prominent Lebanese Shia clan seized a number Syrian rebels with the aim of securing the release of Hassan al-Meqdad, who was kidnapped by the Free Army in Damascus on Monday. Saudi Arabia has called on its citizens to leave Lebanon immediately.
US defence secretary Leon Panetta accused Tehran of raising a pro-regime militia in Syria.
He said Washington had evidence that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were “trying to develop, trying to train a militia [to] fight on behalf of the regime. It is obvious that Iran has been playing a larger role in Syria in many ways.”
He urged Tehran not to get involved. “Syrian people ought to determine their future, not Iran.”
US chief-of-staff Martin Dempsey elaborated: “The Syrian army has been fighting for about 18 months. And any army would be taxed with that kind of pace. That’s why Iran is stepping in.”
Iran has previously been charged with supplying Syria with cash, fuel, and military expertise.
Mr Panetta said the US would continue to provide aid to Syrian refugees, monitor the regime’s chemical weapons arsenal and provide “non-lethal” aid to the rebels – medical supplies, food, communications equipment, and logistics support.
He predicted that US allies Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Kuwait, which have been arming and funding the rebels, would offer “more aggressive assistance to the opposition”.
UN relief chief Valerie Amos said the situation in Syria had deteriorated since she last visited in March. The Syrian government made it clear that it was determined to remain in control of aid so that it did not go to the rebels, she said, adding that the Syrian Arab Red Crescent was “doing a good job but their capacity is stretched”.
During a summit in Mecca, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference was set to suspend Syria’s membership unless it “immediately [ends] all acts of violence”.
Iran, Iraq, Algeria, and Lebanon oppose the measure.
In Beijing, where Syrian envoy Bouthaina Shaaban has met senior officials, the People’s Daily warned: “Delaying a political solution to the Syrian issue will push the country into even more violent civil war and exacerbate disorder in the Middle East.”
The paper said China was also considering inviting Syrian opposition organisations to visit.