Syria blames fatal train derailment on 'saboteurs'

A TRAIN derailed and caught fire in central Syria yesterday, killing the driver and injuring 14 passengers, after "saboteurs" tore out part of the tracks, Syrian officials said.

Authorities quickly seized on the incident to blame the four-month-old uprising against president Bashar al-Assad, saying gunmen and criminals were taking advantage of demonstrations to commit terrorist acts targeting innocent people. No evidence was provided to support those claims.

Ghassan Mustafa Abdul-Aal, the governor of the flashpoint city of Homs near the crash site, called it a "terrorist and criminal" act and said it was a "clear message" to everyone who says the anti-Assad protest movement is peaceful.

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Syrian authorities have unleashed a crackdown in an effort to crush the revolt, and activists say more than 1,600 civilians have died since the protests erupted in March. The government blames the unrest on terrorists and foreign extremists, not true reform seekers, and has taken pains to portray itself as a safeguard against civil war.

The train, carrying 480 passengers and five crew members, was travelling from the north-eastern city of Aleppo to the capital, Damascus.

Officials said the saboteurs ripped up a section of the tracks at al-Souda about three miles from Homs, causing the train to derail and the front carriage to catch fire in the crash. The driver was killed instantly and 14 passengers were injured, rail officials said.

The information ministry took Syrian journalists to the site to survey the damage - several white and red carriages that had jumped the tracks and one overturned and charred carriage. The journalists were shown tyre tracks left by motorcycles that officials claimed the saboteurs used to reach the tracks. The rails were ripped apart using what appeared to be wrenches.

"This crime was meant to kill 485 Syrian citizens today," said George al-Qaabari, head of the Syrian railway. "We ask the American and French ambassadors who say the protests are peaceful, is this peaceful?"

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