Key Damascus army compound shaken by rebel blasts


RESPONSIBILITY FOR twin explosions at a military facility in the heart of Damascus has been claimed by the Grandchildren of the Prophet brigade of the rebel Free Syrian Army.

A brigade spokesman said improvised explosive devices were planted in the building, which is a base for troops protecting the army’s general staff. The brigade threatened to attack President Bashar al-Assad’s palace and said it had carried out the operation in concert with two other rebel groups, according to a statement.

Syrian state television confirmed the bombing and said four people had been wounded: “A terrorist attack occurred in al-Mehdi [Ben Barka] street in the Abu Rammaneh district” about 200m from the offices of the military chiefs and vice-president Farouk al- Sharaa.

Last month a bomb attached to a fuel tanker exploded in the same area near the Dama Rose hotel where UN ceasefire monitors were billeted before their departure.

Earlier in the day, a car bomb killed an army officer and injured several people in the northeastern Rukn al-Din district, state media reported.

A car bomb explosion on Saturday near a mosque at Sbeneh, a poor town south of the capital, killed 15 people.

The Syrian army said it repelled a rebel attack on the air force academy near Aleppo and rebels said they had attacked a military airport and air defence facility in the eastern province of Deir al- Zor, capturing army officers and seizing anti-aircraft rockets.

The UN children’s fund reported that 1,600 people were killed in Syria last week as veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi took over the post of Arab League- UN envoy from former UN secretary general Kofi Annan.

He said “change [in Syria] is necessary” but did not call upon Dr Assad to resign.

“It is too early to speak about who should go and who should stay. This is not a step backwards. Mr Assad is . . . the president . . . Kofi talked to him and I will talk to him,” he said, departing from the line taken by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon.

Mr Brahimi said deploying Arab forces in Syria was not being considered, adding that “military interference in Syria means failure of diplomatic efforts”.

He called on “parties inside Syria to halt the fighting . . . this call is primarily directed to the government [as] it is the duty of [all] governments to ensure security and stability”.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said it would be “naive” for external powers to call on Damascus to withdraw troops from urban areas and wait for the rebels to do so. This demand, advanced by the west and its Arab allies, would amount to “unilateral capitulation.” He accused these external powers of “encouraging armed opposition units”, ensuring many more lived would be lost.

Meanwhile, thousands of Turkish supporters of Dr Assad marched through Antakya in southern Turkey demanding that support for Syrian rebels stops.