Saturday, December 24, 2011

Syria Says 40 Dead in Capital Suicide Blasts, Opposition Blames Regime

Suicide bombers hit two security service bases in Damascus on Friday, killing at least 40 people, in attacks the regime blamed on al-Qaida but which the opposition said were the work of the regime itself.

The bombings, which officials blamed on al-Qaida, were the first attacks against Syria's powerful security services in the heart of the capital since the uprising began and overshadowed new protests against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

"The new toll for the two attacks today is established at 40 dead and 150 injured," foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi told Agence France Presse.

One bomber tried to ram a vehicle packed with explosives into the compound of the General Security Directorate, Syria's most important plain-clothes security service, in the Kfar Suseh neighborhood of Damascus, witnesses said.

A second blew up a vehicle outside a nearby military intelligence building.

State television showed pictures of a huge crater at one of the bomb sites and pools of blood on surrounding pavements.

Bystanders were seen carrying away charred and mangled bodies wrapped in makeshift shrouds.

"On the first day after the arrival of the Arab observers, this is the gift we get from the terrorists and al-Qaida but we are going to do all we can to facilitate the Arab League mission," Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Meqdad told reporters at one of the bomb sites.

"We said it from the beginning, this is terrorism. They are killing the army and civilians," Meqdad added.

Asked to comment on suggestions that the bombings had been engineered by the regime itself, Meqdad shot back: "Anyone who makes such allegations is a criminal."

The opposition group, the Syrian National Council, made just such a claim.

"The Syrian regime, alone, bears all the direct responsibility for the two terrorist explosions," said an SNC statement received by Agence France Presse.

"It wanted to send a warning message to the observers for them not to approach security centers."

The regime is trying to give the world the impression "that it faces danger coming from abroad and not a popular revolution demanding freedom and dignity," the statement added.

The SNC also accused the regime of having transferred "thousands of prisoners (who were being held in jails) to fortified military barracks," to which the observers would not have access.

Earlier on Friday, Omar Idilbi, an SNC member and the spokesman of the Local Coordination Committees, called the explosions "very mysterious because they happened in heavily guarded areas that are difficult to be penetrated by a car."

"The presence of the Arab League advance team of observers pushed the regime to give this story in order to scare the committee from moving around Syria," he said, though he stopped short of accusing the regime in the blasts.

"The second message is an attempt to make the Arab League and international public opinion believe that Syria is being subjected to acts of terrorism by members of al-Qaida," Idilbi added.

Assad’s main Lebanese ally Hizbullah accused "terrorist" Washington of orchestrating the attacks.

The party said such bombings are "the specialty of the United States", which is seeking revenge for its "defeat" in Iraq, days after its forces completed their withdrawal from the country.

For his part, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman condemned the blasts as "terrorist attacks" and said they were aimed at disrupting the Arab League's efforts to resolve the crisis.

Syria's deputy foreign minister was accompanied to the bomb site by Arab League Assistant Secretary General Samir Seif al-Yazal, head of the observer mission's advance team that flew in on Thursday.

Yazal offered his condolences to the families of the dead.

"What has happened is regrettable but the important thing is that everyone stay calm," he told reporters.

"We are going to press on with our work. We have started today, and tomorrow (Saturday) we will meet (Foreign Minister) Walid Muallem."

Yazal heads a nine-strong team which is making the necessary logistical arrangements for the arrival of a first 30 observers on Sunday. The mission will eventually number between 150 and 200.

The mission is part of an Arab plan endorsed by Syria on November 2 that also calls for the withdrawal of the military from towns and residential districts, a halt to violence against civilians and the release of detainees.

The Syrian foreign minister has said he expects the Arab observers to vindicate his government's contention that the unrest is the work of "armed terrorists," not overwhelmingly peaceful protesters as maintained by Western governments and human rights watchdogs.

State news agency SANA said Thursday that more than 2,000 security force personnel had been killed in attacks by armed rebels.

But opposition leaders have charged that Syria's agreement to the mission after weeks of prevarication was a mere "ploy" to head off a threat by the Arab League to go to the U.N. Security Council over a crackdown, which the world body says has left more than 5,000 people dead since March.

There was no let-up in the bloodshed on Friday with human rights activists reporting at least 12 civilians killed by security force fire.

The opposition Syrian National Council charged on Wednesday that regime forces had killed 250 people in 48 hours in the run-up to the observer advance team's arrival.


Shi'a are on the move everywhere...maybe O is shi'a after all


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