Damascus car bomb attacks leave at least 20 dead

Security forces stop militants reaching two targets after suicide bomber detonates device

A series of car bomb blasts shook the Syrian capital, Damascus, early on Sunday, killing at least 20 people the Syrian Foreign Ministry said.

The incident highlighted security gaps in parts of the country controlled by President Bashar al-Assad, an opposition monitoring group claimed.

A suicide bomber blew up the car he was driving near the centre of Damascus after being surrounded by security forces, while two other car bombs were detonated after security forces tried to intercept the vehicles on the edge of the city.

Syrian state television reported that eight people had died and 13 had been injured, but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition monitoring group based in Britain, reported that 18 were killed, including the three attackers.

The attack came on the first full work day after the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks, but the jihadis of Islamic State and militants linked to al-Qaeda have claimed recent attacks inside the city.

The blasts came as Mr Assad has solidified his control over most of Syria’s main cities, where the majority of the country’s remaining population lives. But that control has come at great cost, with the country’s economy badly battered and many towns and neighbourhoods destroyed. More than half of Syria’s prewar population of 22 million has been displaced since the start of the civil war in 2011, and millions of Syrians have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.

Mr Assad’s forces have struggled to maintain security in areas under their control while continuing to battle rebels seeking to oust Mr Assad as well as jihadi groups that have exploited the war’s chaos to seize territory.

New York Times service/Reuters