Syrian army command bombed in Damascus
TWIN BOMB blasts at the Syrian army staff headquarters on Umayyad Square yesterday shook central Damascus and triggered a two-hour firefight when rebels tried to storm the compound. Blazes raged in the upper floors of the multistorey block and windows in the nearby Abu Rummaneh diplomatic quarter were shattered.
The operation in the Syrian capital was claimed by the rebel Free Syrian Army and Tajamo Ansar al-Islam (Gathering of the Partisans of Islam).
State television, which showed security camera footage of a white van approaching the building and exploding, reported that four guards were killed and 14 wounded. A second device was detonated inside the compound.
Maya Nasser, a reporter for Iran’s Press TV network, was shot dead by a rebel sniper while covering the battle. Damascus bureau chief Hussein Mortada was injured. During a visit to the building after the attack, a journalist from the Hizbullah-run Lebanese station al-Manar said he had seen the bodies of three armed men.
Syrian information minister Omran Zoabi said: “I can confirm that all our comrades in the military command and defence ministry are fine.” The attack took place at 7am before government offices opened, probably accounting for the relatively low death toll. Mr Zoabi said: “Everything is normal. There was a terrorist act near a significant location but they failed as usual to achieve their goals.”
The attack was the most significant on a strategic major military facility since the July 18th bombing of a nearby research centre which killed four members of the crisis management team, including the defence minister and President Bashar al-Assad’s brother-in-law. Army and airforce installations have repeatedly been targeted by rebels over the past 15 months. On Tuesday, rebels set off seven bombs at a Damascus school where officers were said to be meeting.
Umayyad Square, where yesterday’s attack took place, was named after the Umayyad dynasty which ruled the Arab empire from Damascus between 661 and 750. It hosts the Syrian television building, Assad national library, opera house, Sheraton hotel and the ministry of defence, as well as general staff headquarters, the target of the rebel operation.
While clashes continued in Homs and Aleppo, the Pontifical Mission’s Agenzia Fides reported the release of 240 Greek Catholic civilians abducted by armed elements from the village of Rableh on the border with Lebanon. The heads of local families negotiated their freedom, apparently without paying the ransom demanded by the kidnappers.
Three Christians from another village seized earlier were killed. The agency said Rableh has been under siege from several of the 2,000 armed groups not connected to the Free Syrian Army.
Meanwhile, at the UN General Assembly, Qatari emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, a staunch supporter of the Syrian rebels, called for an Arab force to be deployed in Syria to halt the conflict. He cited the precedent of the Arab League force that intervened in the Lebanese civil war in 1976. However, he did not mention that the force consisted mainly of Syrian troops who failed to end the violence until 1990, when Damascus was given the green light by Washington to attack Lebanon’s last bastion of defence, the Christian minority.