Car bomb kills 12 as government vows to 'cleanse' Syria of rebels


A CAR BOMB exploded during a funeral yesterday in the quiet Damascus suburb of Jaramana, killing 12 civilians.

State news agency Sana said this was the third blast in the area in 24 hours. The funeral, at a Druze cemetery, was for two regime supporters killed by bombs on Monday.

An opposition activist calling himself Abu Hamza said five bodies were found in the Qadam district, prompting many residents to flee the area, which suffered heavy shelling on Monday.

Qadam has been a staging location for rebel Free Syrian Army raids on the army for some weeks. Abu Hamza said 500 rebels, including army defectors from various regions, were based there.

Syrian army helicopters dropped leaflets warning rebels in Damascus to hand over their arms and seek amnesty. The text said the army would “cleanse every inch of Syrian soil” and that rebels must surrender or face death.

The leafleting followed a week-long systematic mopping up operation in districts and towns south and east of Damascus where rebels had regrouped after being routed last month from central neighbourhoods.

Opposition activists have reported that hundreds, the majority young men, have been killed in this campaign, which coincided with army sweeps in Aleppo and Homs.

Aleppo’s Greek Catholic archbishop, Jean-Clément Jeanbart, fled to Beirut after the archdiocese was ransacked by “unidentified groups who want to start a religious war”, a source in the Christian community said.

Armenian residents of the city, a substantial Christian community, are also leaving, some resettling in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia.

Russia’s chief-of-staff, General Nikolai Makarov, denied that Moscow was in the process of evacuating its naval repair base in Tartous on the Syrian coast.

The US meanwhile dubbed as “premature” French president François Hollande’s call on opposition groups to unite and form a provisional government to which Paris would extend recognition.

The US stance was criticised by Abdel Basset Sieda, head of the expatriate opposition Syrian National Council who said it was making “serious” preparations and consulting with other groups on the formation of a government if president Bashar al-Assad fell.

However, opposition groups failed to gather in Cairo at the weekend following a boycott by the council which had been offered only one seat on a 21-member body proposed to write a common platform.

Nevertheless, a 70-page plan for the “day after” the possible fall of Dr Assad was presented in Berlin. The plan was drafted by 45 Syrian opposition figures under the auspices of the US Institute for Peace and the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

In an interview with Robert Fisk of London’s Independent, Syrian foreign minister Walid Muallem said Washington was pursuing the conflict in Syria in order to weaken its regional ally, Iran.

“We believe the US is the major player . . . and the rest are its instruments,” Mr Muallem said.

He argued that the unrest had started with “legitimate demands” which were met by government “legislation and reforms”, but said foreign elements “hijacked the peaceful agenda of the people”. He argued that “60 per cent” of the violence afflicting Syria “comes from abroad”.