Brazen suicide bomb attacks hit at heart of Syria’s army
Two suicide car bombers struck at the heart of Syria’s army yesterday, attacking its command headquarters in Damascus, killing four guards and engulfing a key symbol of president Bashar al-Assad’s embattled regime in flames.
The twin blasts were followed by several hours of gun battles between rebel fighters and regime forces in central Damascus.
The brazen rebel attacks in the heart of the Syrian capital highlighted their determination to bring down Mr Assad as the country’s civil war intensifies – the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights released a total death toll of 30,716 people for the 18 month-old conflict yesterday, at least 21,534 of whom were civilians.
Over the past few months, the rebels have increasingly targeted security sites and symbols of regime power in a bid to turn the tide in the fighting.
The Free Syrian Army claimed responsibility for the bombings at the General Staff Command building. It was the biggest rebel attack in Damascus since 18 July, when a bombing killed senior security officials, including Mr Assad’s brother-in-law, the defence minister and a general.
The blasts went off about ten minutes apart, starting at about 7am. They were heard several miles away.
Syrian state TV aired what it said was security camera footage of the blasts. In the first, a white van is driving on the road outside the military headquarters, then veers to the right and explodes. The second blast goes off inside the compound, with flames rising from behind trees.
Later, the army command building is seen engulfed in flames that sent huge columns of thick black smoke over Damascus for several hours.
The explosions shattered the windows of the Dama Rose hotel and other nearby buildings. Footage from the state-run TV channel Ikhbariya showed heavy damage inside the compound, with shattered glass and broken ceiling tiles scattered across the floor.
The blasts caused fear among residents of a nearby wealthy district, which has largely been sheltered from the violence that plagues other parts of the city.
“What if a random bullet killed one of my kids?” said Nada, a 42-year-old mother of three. The windows of her flat were shattered and her furniture was damaged. “I only care about my children and I’m afraid of the gunfire,” she added.
Witnesses said the explosions were followed by heavy gunfire that stretched on for hours at Omayyad Square and around the military compound.
One witness who managed to get close to the area, which was cordoned off, saw panicked soldiers shooting in the air randomly as they ran.
Activists also said security forces killed more than 40 people in a town outside Damascus yesterday, calling it a massacre.
Video published by activists showed rows of bloodied corpses wrapped in blankets in the town of Dhiyabia. The victims appeared to be male, from 20-year-olds to elderly men.
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