- 53 people were killed when a massive explosion ripped through Damascus near Syria’s Ba’ath Party headquarters, and two additional explosions in other parts of the city claimed 13 more lives within minutes of the attack.
- 250 people were wounded in the attack, which is the deadliest since a double suicide bombing left 55 people dead last May. Rebel forces and those loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have been fighting in Damascus for weeks, but recent upticks in the violence have some wondering if Assad could be forced to flee the Syrian capital soon. source
Since the Free Syrian Army is a guerrilla group, whether it can hold the northern metropolis of Aleppo is not absolutely central to its survival. Guerrillas can always fade away to fight another day.
But for the Baath regime of Bashar al-Assad, losing Aleppo would be fatal. The regime controls increasingly little of the country, mainly the capital of Damascus and whatever strips of land the army is actually standing on at any one time. Aleppo is the commercial nerve center of the country, and without it the government will gradually collapse.
The revolutionaries hold most of the east of the city whereas the regime still has the west. But within these enclaves, some support the other side or are on the fence.
Rebel forces said Saturday morning that they now control 60% of Aleppo.
In several days of fierce fighting, the regime still has not been able to reassert itself in Aleppo, despite the use of heavy artillery, tanks, helicopter gunships and even fighter jets. Admittedly, the Baath government has not mounted a really big tank assault a la Homs, suggesting it does not have enough tank battalions it trusts to risk sending them away from the capital.
On Saturday morning, the rebels in Aleppo made an attempt to take over the city’s television station (always the first sign of a change in government in a place). Although their attempt was initially repelled by sniper fire, that battle is ongoing. Regime broadcasts appear to have ceased. The regime continues to be on the defensive in Aleppo, which is not a good sign for it.
Heavy fighting is reported in neighborhoods such as Salahuddin. For the mood and the situation in Salahuddin see The Irish Times
Opposition sources say over 4000 persons were killed in the fighting in Syria in July. This monthly total is the highest since the revolt began.
In Damascus, the regime is still apparently battling for control of districts such as Tadamon. A regime mortar attack went astray on Friday and overshot, hitting a Palestinian refugee camp and killing 20. There are 450,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria, families ethnically cleansed by Zionist forces from their homes in Palestine, now Israel, in 1948, and stuck in Syria ever since. The Palestinians are only about 2% of the Syrian population, but they do have some armed groups and could be pushed by the regime into joining the rebels (they have been divided on the revolution, having an uncertain position in the country). The regime blamed the mortars on the rebels, but it is the Baath army that has been deploying mortar fire against civilian city quarters.
On Friday, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning the Syrian regime for using heavy weapons in civilian areas. Russia and China are increasingly isolated in the world community because of their support for al-Assad, and were angry that they lost that vote so decisively. The UNGA vote shows that opposition to al-Assad’s methods is hardly just “Western,” but is rather characteristic of most countries in the world– including many in Latin America, Africa and Asia.
Activists have dubbed the fighting in the capital the “Damascus Volcano” in what appears to be an attempt to bring the fighting into Syria’s seat of power.
The clashes are the most sustained and widespread in the capital since the start of the uprising against Assad in March last year and a crackdown that activists say has claimed the lives of more than 17,000 people. In the past, clashes happened at night in the capital. Now, the fighting rages during the day — a sign of the growing strength and boldness of the rebels.
That has brought the bloodshed to the heart of Damascus — and Syria’s largest city, Aleppo — which are both home to elites who have benefited from close ties to Assad’s regime, as well as merchant classes and minority groups who worry their status will suffer if Assad falls. >continue<
More than 55 people were killed and 372 wounded in two powerful blasts that rocked the Syrian capital during morning rush hour on Thursday, state television reported.
The blasts took place in front of a nine-storey security building, the facade of which was destroyed along with residential buildings nearby, according to an AFP correspondent at the site.
Television footage showed dozens of mangled, burnt and smouldering vehicles, some containing incinerated human remains. A large crater could be seen in the road and at least one lorry had been overturned.
Damascus residents said the two explosions, which happened almost simultaneously shortly before 8am, struck a district of Damascus which houses a military intelligence complex involved in President Bashar Assad’s crackdown on 14 months of protests.
"Despite the said transparency and openness of the poll, many Damascenes were extremely reluctant to deal with the media. Most turned away, refusing to entertain an interview, even with the promise of anonymity. After 40 years of authoritarian rule that silenced political thought in the country, the sense of fear still permeated through the streets of Damascus." - Antoun Issa
[…] If Barzeh’s anti-regime protests boasted festivity and optimism, Douma was raging in anger. Their eyes spoke only one word: hate. Hate for the “Alawi” regime, hate for Assad, and hate for the death they have witnessed. The protests here also occur in the evening, one was planned that day for 6pm. It was difficult to ascertain who was leading or organizing the protests. “No one, we do it all ourselves,” one man said, again strictly anonymous.
There are no committees? No group leaders?
“No, we come out on our own and start chanting. We don’t respond to anyone,” he exclaimed, revealing a wide gap between the organic protests on the ground, and the political opposition sitting in offices in Damascus as well as in Istanbul, Washington, Paris, and London.
We returned to the center of Damascus that evening, where small pockets of young men and women were still roaming the streets, chanting and singing for Assad, in the same festive mood as those who hold a different view of the president only a few kilometers away in Barzeh.
The strategy of containing pockets of unrest appears to have kept the lid on Damascus for now, while permitting a limited outlet for opposition against the regime.
It is clear, however, that without a mass uprising in Damascus, the revolt holds little chance of succeeding. The Syrian capital is the heart of power in the country – economic and political – a fact fully understood in both government and opposition camps.
In the Syrian crisis, all roads still lead to Damascus.
DAMASCUS, Syria — The upheaval that has roiled much of Syria for the past 10 months is seeping its way into the heart of the country’s capital, puncturing the sense of invulnerability that had until recently sustained confidence in the government’s ability to survive the revolt.
On Sunday, security forces launched a major assault to reclaim suburbs just a short drive from the city center that had fallen under the sway of rebel soldiers fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army.
The sound of gunfire and shelling from a string of suburbs on the eastern edge of the city could clearly be heard in several central neighborhoods, residents said, bringing perilously close a conflict that had until recently been dismissed as a mostly rural, provincial phenomenon from which Damascus, President Bashar al-Assad’s stronghold, would remain immune.
Activists said at least 10 people died in the offensive, among 32 killed Sunday across Syria as the government steps up its efforts to crush what is now, unmistakably, an armed revolt.
In one indicator that those who had once engaged in overwhelmingly peaceful protests now are fighting back, the official news agency, SANA, reported the funerals Sunday of 23 soldiers and police killed in the violence, as well as an attack on a bus in the Damascus suburb of Sahnaya in which six soldiers died.
Those deaths bring into the hundreds the number who have died in the past three days as the Syrian revolt, which threatens to become the bloodiest and most profound of all those in the region over the past year, appears to be lurching into a new and more dangerous phase.
This is extremely suspicious. There hasn’t been a single “terrorist” attack (much less “suicide” bombing) inside Syria since the uprising began in March. In major urban areas, with the possible exception of Alleppo, Damascus has seen the least (open) public resistance to Assad. Now, all of a sudden, the day after the observers arrive, an “al-Qaeda terrorist ‘suicide’ car bombing” occurs in a high security region of city? Smells fishy.
Twin suicide car bomb blasts ripped through an upscale Damascus district Friday, targeting heavily guarded intelligence buildings and killing at least 40 people, Syrian authorities said.
The blasts came a day after an advance team of Arab League observers arrived in the country to monitor Syria’s promise to end its crackdown on protesters demanding the ouster of President Bashar Assad. Government officials took the observers to the scene of the explosions and said it backed their longtime claims that the turmoil is not a popular uprising but the work of terrorists.
The blasts were the first such suicide bombings in Syria since the uprising began in March, adding new and ominous dimensions to a conflict that has already taken the country to the brink of civil war.
“We said it from the beginning, this is terrorism. They are killing the army and civilians,” Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Mekdad told reporters outside the headquarters of the General Intelligence Agency, where bodies still littered the ground. State TV said initial investigations indicated possible involvement by the al-Qaida terror network.
Alongside him, the head of the observer advance team, Sameer Seif el-Yazal, said, “We are here to see the facts on the ground. … What we are seeing today is regretful, the important thing is for things to calm down.”
An opposition leader raised doubts over the authorities’ version of events, suggesting the regime was trying to make its case to the observers.
Omar Idilbi, a member of the Syrian National Council, an umbrella group of regime opponents, 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.” […]
A military official told reporters that more than 40 people were killed and more than 100 wounded. He spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity in accordance with military rules. Earlier, state TV said most of the dead were civilians but included military and security personnel.
Maj. Gen. Rustom Ghazaleh, who heads the targeted military intelligence department, said the attacks were proof of a foreign project to strike at Syria. “We will fight this project until the last drop of blood,” he declared. […]
David Hartwell, Middle East political analyst at IHS Jane’s in London, said the timing “is certain to be viewed with suspicion by the opposition.”
“The start of the monitoring mission has been overshadowed by the attacks in Damascus, a fact that government critics may highlight as fortuitous and more than a little coincidental,” he said.
He added that the Arab League “will need to work extremely hard” to convince observers and the opposition that it is not being played by the Syrians in an effort to stall for time.
Syrian activists say the government is sending more troops to areas outside of the capital, Damascus, to carry out a large-scale security sweep.
Tuesday’s move comes a day after the United States condemned the violence in Syria and urged President Bashar al-Assad’s government to stop deadly actions against peaceful protesters.
The State Department said Monday the actions of Syria’s security forces are “reprehensible” and include “barbaric shootings,” torture and other human rights abuses.
Rights groups say Syrian forces have killed at least 1,600 civilians during a crackdown against more than four months of anti-government protests. The government has refused to accept blame for the violence and claims much of the unrest is caused by terrorists and Islamists.