Damascus car bomb kills 13 in Christian quarter of old city


A CAR bomb has killed 13 people and injured 29 near a police station in the Christian St Thomas’s Gate quarter of Damascus’s old city.

The blast occurred as UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi discussed a ceasefire yesterday with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the explosion, the first bombing in this location, although a majority of Syrian Christians have backed the government since the rebellion erupted 19 months ago.

Mr Brahimi said Dr Assad supported the mediation effort, but did not commit to a ceasefire over the four-day Muslim Eid al-Adha, beginning on Friday.

State news agency Sana reported: “The president said he is open to any sincere effort to find a political solution . . . on the basis of respecting Syrian sovereignty and rejecting foreign interference,” adding that Mr Assad had stressed that a political solution had to involve a halt to “terrorism” and agreement from countries “supporting, arming and harbouring terrorists” to stop.

Mr Brahimi said opposition parties he met inside and outside Syria, and rebel groups he contacted, had responded positively to his call for a truce.

He said that if the ceasefire was imposed during the holiday, he would try to ensure its continuation with the aim of building on it.

“The Syrian people expect more than a truce for a few days, and it is their right, but all we can promise is that we will work hard to achieve their aspirations. If it does not happen, we will keep trying and we hope we can find a way to provide relief to the Syrian people.”

A ceasefire is supported by Turkey, an ally of the rebels, Iran and Russia, which back the government, Iraq and Germany.

Meanwhile, government forces conducted a sweep for armed elements and weapons in the town of Jdeidat Artous, west of the capital and shelled the town of Harasta, to the northeast.

Residents of Maarat al-Numan, located on the strategic Damascus-Aleppo highway, reported aerial bombing of the provincial town and heavy fighting at the nearby Wadi Deif military base, where 250 to 500 troops are said to be surrounded by rebels.

In Aleppo, a suicide bomber blew up his car outside the French-Syrian hospital, wounding passersby and causing damage. Aleppo’s Christian districts have also been targeted by rebels in recent weeks.