Damascus bomb blasts most deadly since start of rebellion

Fri, May 11, 2012, 01:00

AT LEAST 55 people were killed and 372 wounded yesterday in two massive car bomb blasts in the deadliest attack in Syria since the rebellion erupted 14 months ago.

The twin blasts, heard all over Damascus, dealt a heavy blow to the fragile ceasefire imposed by the UN a month ago.

The UN Security Council strongly condemned the “terrorist attacks”, urging all parties to the 14-month conflict to cease armed violence and comply with a UN-backed peace plan.

The bombings took place during the morning rush hour near an intelligence headquarters in the Qazaz quarter on the southern ring road, killing parents and children en route to school, commuters driving to work and families who had shopped ahead of the weekend, as well as intelligence officers arriving at the facility. The blasts gouged deep craters in the highway and tore the facade off the 10-storey intelligence building, the apparent target of the carefully calculated operation.

“Two booby-trapped cars loaded with more than 1,000 kilograms of explosives and driven by suicidal terrorists carried out the . . . blasts,” the interior ministry announced.

After visiting the site, Maj Gen Robert Mood, the Norwegian head of the UN ceasefire monitoring mission, said the Syrian people did not deserve such “terrible violence”, and called on those “inside Syria and outside Syria” backing such attacks to end their support.

Maj Gen Mood escaped harm on Wednesday in the southern city of Deraa when a roadside bomb exploded seconds after his convoy had passed.

UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, author of the UN peace plan for Syria, appealed for calm and an end to the blood-letting. “These abhorrent acts are unacceptable and the violence in Syria must stop. Any action that serves to escalate tensions and raise the level of violence can only be counterproductive to the interests of all parties,” he said.

Damascenes contacted by The Irish Times said such attacks “come from outside”, while the government has blamed al-Qaeda for the series of bombings that began last December with an explosion that left 44 dead, most of the victims policemen. A bombing at an intersection in January killed 26, a blast in Aleppo in February killed 28 and attacks on security offices in March 27.

The opposition has denied responsibility and accused the government of staging the bombings to intimidate the UN ceasefire mission. Opposition spokesmen contend that such deadly events demonise dissidents and generate insecurity in the population.

While there was no immediate declaration of responsibility, previous suicide and car bombings have been claimed by an organisation calling itself al-Nusra Front for the Protection of the People of Syria, believed to be associated with al-Qaeda.

Speaking to the Al Jazeera satellite channel, retired Lebanese army general Hisham Jaber argued that the government would refrain from such attacks since it did not want to show it was “losing control”, while Syrian rebels did not have the expertise to carry out suicide operations. He blamed Arab militants, “jihadis” with their own agendas, who were prepared to die and who had the ability to stage devastating operations.