Crisis deepens as Damascus bombings leave at least 11 dead


FOUR BOMB blasts in Damascus yesterday shook the calm and complacency of the Syrian capital, which has remained largely outside the reach of rebels and protesters since the revolt erupted 13 months ago.

In the most deadly incident, a suicide bomber detonated a device in the Midan district across the street from a mosque where security forces had gathered in expectation of an anti-government protest after weekly communal prayers.

At least 11 police and civilians were killed and 30 wounded, state television reported.

Three smaller explosions were also said to have taken place in Damascus, killing one and wounding four. Five policemen were reportedly wounded by bombs in the port city of Tartous and two bombs were dismantled in the oil hub of Deir al-Zor.

The Syrian and US governments blamed al-Qaeda for blasts in Damascus that killed 44 in December and 26 in January, and for 28 in Aleppo in February.

The bombings took place as the Syrian government came under strong criticism for failing to meet its commitment to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from urban areas, in accordance with UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan. US presidential spokesman Josh Earnest said: “We intend to continue to ramp up the international pressure on the Assad regime to encourage” it to meet its obligations.

Opposition activists said thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in Aleppo, Hama and Idlib to protest against the government’s continuing crackdown on dissent. Additional UN monitors were expected in Damascus to join the 15 already operating.

Mission spokesman Neeraj Singh said two team members have been deployed in the southern city of Deraa, the cradle of the revolt.

Meanwhile, in Cairo, thousands rather than tens of thousands rallied in Tahrir Square in response to a call from Muslim fundamentalists to demonstrate under the banner “Protecting the Revolution”, in response to the inclusion of Ahmad Shafiq, a close associate of ousted president Hosni Mubarak, among the 13 candidates in next month’s election. The low turnout was a disappointment as the fundamentalists wanted to demonstrate their strength with mass action.

Most secular revolutionaries boycotted the event. They accuse the Muslim Brotherhood and the ultra-orthodox Salafis of trying to “hijack” the revolution.

The brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, could now drop its call for demonstrations every Friday until the ruling military junta hands over power to the newly elected president, an event set for the end of June.