Car bomb kills 53 in central Damascus

The aftermath of the explosion in the central Damascus district of Mazra'a yesterday. photograph; reuters/sana

The aftermath of the explosion in the central Damascus district of Mazra'a yesterday. photograph; reuters/sana

Fri, Feb 22, 2013, 00:00

Syria’s government blamed terrorists for a car bomb that killed at least 53 people in central Damascus near the headquarters of the ruling Ba’ath party yesterday, as pressure mounted for talks between the government and opposition.

Among more than 230 people reportedly injured in the incident in the Mazra’a district of the capital were children from a nearby school, and Nayef Hawatmeh, the head of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The Russian embassy was also damaged.

Shattered windows

The explosion shattered windows and sent up a huge plume of smoke that was visible throughout much of Damascus, which has so far mostly avoided the large-scale violence that has destroyed other Syrian cities.

The Free Syrian Army, the main armed opposition group, denied responsibility for the blast and blamed it on the regime. Opposition media claimed emergency service vehicles were waiting nearby shortly before the blast – a charge often made after attacks of this kind. Opposition sources also reported two or three other explosions elsewhere in the city. Fighting erupted in Barzeh between government and rebel forces, according to al-Jazeera TV, while artillery fire was reported from Qaboun and the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp.

Willingness to negotiate

On the political front, meanwhile, the main anti-Assad opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), reiterated its willingness to negotiate an agreement to end the war but insisted again that the president could not be a party to any settlement, according to a communique drafted for an opposition meeting.

The document says Assad and his aides must be held accountable for bloodshed that has claimed the lives of 70,000 people since March 2011.

It also says any peace deal must be under the auspices of the US and Russia – a significant detail that hints at the potential role the two UN security council members could play. – (Guardian)