Middle East

Rebels strike in heart of Damascus

The wreckage caused by an explosion near major military and security compounds in Damascus.

DAMASCUS: Rebels claimed responsibility Sunday for a morning bomb attack on military headquarters in the center of the Syrian capital, as Damascus pledged to be “open” to a new United Nations envoy to the conflict.

The Ahfad al-Rasul (Grandchildren of the Prophet) battalion of the Free Syrian Army claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement on Facebook, in which it also threatened to attack President Bashar Assad’s palace.

Syrian state television reported twin bombings near security service buildings in the center of the capital Sunday and said the blasts wounded four people.

“A terrorist attack with two bombs occurred on Al-Mahdi bin Baraka Street in the Abu Rummaneh district,” it said of an area where several military and security service buildings are located. Abu Rummaneh is an upscale neighborhood in the heart of Damascus, and is home to several embassies.

“This operation was carried out in response to the massacres in Daraya,” said the statement, referring to the killing last week of at least 330 people in a town near Damascus.

Regime and rebel forces have blamed each other for the massacre.

The group said it cooperated with two other rebel units in staging the attack, and added that they had relied on help from the inside.

“The explosives were planted by regime troops who had been bribed by the [rebel] brigades,” Matar Ismail, spokesman of the Ahfad al-Rasul brigade, told AFP via Skype.

Also Sunday, state media reported that a car bomb explosion near a mosque at Sbeneh on the southern outskirts of the capital killed 15 people Saturday. Sbeneh is a poor neighborhood where anti-government sentiment is strong.

Elsewhere, airstrikes were carried out Sunday on the town of Al-Bab, a rebel rear base near Aleppo.

Opposition campaigners have also said government troops killed at least 25 men when they shelled and stormed the village of Al-Fan, in the governorate of Hama.

Ferocious shelling also took place in the central city of Homs, and the town of Deraa in the south.

Activists said Sunday’s death toll topped 100 people, while estimating that more than 150 people were killed around the country the day before.

Arab monarchies in the Gulf lambasted Sunday Syria’s regime for deploying heavy weapons against its own civilians.

The six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council at a meeting in Jeddah urged the international community to “assume their responsibilities and take measures to protect civilians” in Syria.

In a statement issued after the meeting, the GCC condemned “the ongoing massacres which are due to the obstinacy of the regime in using heavy weapons, including planes and tanks” against civilians.

Meanwhile, the U.N.’s new envoy to Syria said that change is both “urgent” and “necessary” and that it must meet the “legitimate” demands of the Syrian people.

Lakhdar Brahimi also called on both sides to end violence in Syria, but said Assad’s government bears more responsibility than anyone else to halt the bloodshed.

“I call on parties inside Syria to halt the fighting. Undoubtedly, this call is primarily directed to the government. More than others, it is the duty of governments, under any circumstances and anywhere, not just in Syria, to ensure security and stability for their people,” Brahimi told Al-Arabiya television in an interview in New York.

“The need for change is urgent and necessary. The Syrian people must be satisfied and their legitimate demands met,” he added.

Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said Sunday that Brahimi was due to arrive in Syria soon, and that “we will listen to him and he will listen to us.”

Speaking to Lebanon’s NBN television, Makdissi blamed “powerful U.N. Security Council members [for] discouraging dialogue in Syria.”

“The issue is not personal and has nothing to do with the envoy,” Makdissi said.

“We tried [former envoy] Kofi Annan, and all the reasons that led to his initiative’s unhappy ending were not Syrian. The main reason was a lack of international consensus.”

Brahimi refused to directly comment on statements made in Moscow Saturday by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that the international community should try to persuade all sides in the Syrian conflict to stop the violence and that it would be naive to ask the Syrian government to stop the violence first.

Asked about the Russian’s comments, he said: “He is responsible for his words and has the right to say that all parties must stop the violence. But, undoubtedly, I don’t believe that Lavrov differs with my view that the responsibility of the government is greater than that of the others.”

As for Turkey, whose government was rebuffed over its call for help to establish safe zones to ease a growing refugee problem, its Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said late Friday that “Bashar Assad has come to the end of his political life ... [He] is acting in Syria not as a politician, but as an actor of war.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 03, 2012, on page 1.




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