Syria calls Damascus blasts ‘suicide’ attacks
(CNN) — Two “terrorist suicide attacks” rocked the Syrian capital of Damascus on Thursday, killing at least 55 people and wounding dozens more, the government said.
The Interior Ministry said that the dead included civilians and members of the security forces and that the blasts injured 372 others and “caused massive material losses.”
The attacks, which sent residents dashing through bloody streets littered with debris, were among the deadliest in Syria since the uprising against the Bashar al-Assad regime began in March 2011.
“The explosions took place at a densely populated area as they coincided with the employees and students going to their jobs and schools,” the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said. Syria has consistently blamed such attacks on “terrorists.”
The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the blasts occurred in the Qazzaz neighborhood and destroyed the nation’s intelligence agency. It also said both civilians and security forces were among the casualties.Two opposition movements — the Syrian National Council and the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change — blamed the regime for the attacks. Opposition members have said the government has staged high-profile bombings in the large cities of Aleppo and Damascus in recent months to undermine the credibility of the resistance.
“This is a government-planned attack, and we are used to provocations using these tactics,” said Ausama Monajed, the adviser to the president of the council. “We are in touch with the armed resistance.”
A top-ranking officer in the anti-government resistance condemned the blasts and also suggested the regime could be responsible.
“There are no other parties in Syria who are technically capable of making such a huge explosion, except for the regime itself,” said Brig. Gen. Moustafa el-Sheikh, the head of the military council of the Free Syrian Army. “Not even al Qaeda can do that.”
Members of the U.N. observer team in Syria inspected the site. Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, the head of the observer mission, said, “Those who stand behind these explosions” should understand that the acts cause great suffering, SANA reported.
“They should stop these heinous acts and give a chance to the Syrians to go forward in a peaceful direction without having the innocents being killed,” SANA said, citing Mood.
The observers are attempting to monitor a cease-fire and peace plan forged by Arab League and U.N. joint special envoy Kofi Annan, who strongly condemned the strikes.
Annan “is saddened by the loss of life resulting from the two blasts and extends his condolences to the families of the victims. These abhorrent acts are unacceptable and the violence in Syria must stop,” Annan’s spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, said in a statement.
“He reiterates his call to all parties to adhere to the cessation of violence. Any action that serves to escalate tensions and raise the level of violence can only be counterproductive to the interests of all parties. The joint special envoy calls on all parties to avoid further bloodshed and to protect civilians. The Syrian people have already suffered too much.”
Videos on state television showed panicked residents running down bloody streets strewn with body parts and burned cars. Some gingerly hauled the injured from scorched cars, while others zipped up the dead in what appeared to be body bags.
Amid the chaos, plumes of smoke and white ashes rose into the hazy skies as rescue crews rushed toward the injured.
The blasts come hours after a leading opposition activist group said regime forces have killed hundreds since a cease-fire went into effect about a month ago.
As of Wednesday, at least 1,025 people have been killed, including 60 children, according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria. The deaths include executions and tortures, the group said.
The United Nations has warned that the country risks plunging into a civil war if the warring sides in the uprising don’t adhere to the cease-fire that went into effect on April 12.
“If this opportunity is not seized, I fear that what joint special envoy Kofi Annan has warned about will come to pass: a full-scale civil war with catastrophic effects within Syria and across the region,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.
Violence has continued despite the cease-fire brokered by Annan last month, and the U.N.-backed peace plan is the only chance to stabilize the country, Ban said.
“There is no escaping the reality that we see every day: innocent civilians dying, government troops and heavy armor in city streets, growing numbers of arrests and allegations of brutal torture,” he said.
Opposition members and world leaders have accused al-Assad of failing to observe the truce and cracking down on protesters despite his pledge not to do so.
Attacks have continued almost daily, including gunfire from security forces that killed three people in Daraa, Homs and Idlib provinces Thursday, opposition activists said.
A day earlier, a bomb blast went off near a convoy of U.N. observers entering the southern city of Daraa. There were no casualties among the observers, but the Syrian government said 10 soldiers were wounded.
The observer mission in the nation comprises 70 monitors to ensure the cease-fire is implemented. The monitors are operating in Damascus, Homs, Hama, Idlib, Aleppo and Daraa. The number is regularly expanding, with the mandated total of 300 observers expected within weeks.
Syria has become a grave concern for the international community, according to Ban.
“More than 9,000 people have been killed during the last 14 months. This is totally unacceptable and an intolerable situation,” he said.