Syria capital rocked by deadly blasts, UN warns of civil war

Agence France-Presse
Two powerful blasts blamed on 'terrorist' rock the Syrian capital during morning rush hour

The aftermath of the bombings near the al-Qazaz area of Damascus, Syria, May 10, 2012. Photo courtesy of the Syrian Arab News Agency.

DAMASCUS, Syria (AFP) (UPDATED) – Two powerful blasts rocked Damascus killing and wounding dozens of people during morning rush hour Thursday, May 10, state television said, as UN leader Ban Ki-moon warned of a looming civil war in Syria.

“Two explosions caused by terrorists took place on the freeway in the south of Damascus,” the television said, adding that the blasts occurred “as people were heading to work and children to school.”

The blasts took place in front of a multi-story security building, the facade of which was destroyed along with several surrounding residential buildings, an AFP correspondent at the site reported.

Television showed gruesome images, including the charred hand of a woman on a steering wheel, her gold bracelets dangling from her wrist.

Other burnt and mangled bodies lay in the street amid the carcasses of smoldering vehicles.

There was no immediate breakdown on the number of people killed and those wounded, but state television said most of the casualties were civilians.

A crater three meters (10 feet) wide was caused by one of the explosions, the AFP correspondent reported.

Target

Major General Robert Mood, chief of a UN observer mission in Syria, visited the site to survey the aftermath, the television said.

The attacks came a day after the Norwegian general escaped unharmed when a roadside bomb exploded as he led a team of UN observers into the southern flashpoint city of Daraa.

Ten Syrian soldiers escorting them were hurt in Wednesday’s bombing, according to the latest reports.

Mood said that attack was “a graphic example of violence that the Syrian people” were suffering on a daily basis.

The blasts come despite a UN-backed ceasefire that went into effect on April 12 with the aim of ending 14 months of bloodshed in Syria.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said Thursday’s explosions targeted an intelligence services base in Damascus. It said at least one of the blasts was caused by a car bomb.

Damascus has been the target of a number of bombs in past months as President Bashar al-Assad faces a revolt against his regime which his forces are attempting to crush.

A deadly suicide bombing at Zein al-Abidin mosque in the capital’s central Midan district on April 27 killed 11 people and wounded dozens, according to a toll given at the time by state media.

‘Brief window’ to avoid civil war, says Ban

Commenting after Wednesday’s Daraa attack, UN leader Ban Ki-moon warned Syria’s government and opposition there is only a “brief window” to avoid civil war and indicated the future of the ceasefire monitoring mission was in doubt.

Highlighting an “alarming upsurge” of roadside bombs, alongside government attacks, Ban said in New York that both sides “must realize that we have a brief window to stop the violence, a brief opportunity to create an opening for political engagement between the government and those seeking change.”

He also warned that such bombings cast doubt on the future of the mission set up to monitor a truce brokered by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan that officially started on April 12 but has not been heeded.

The attack was “a testament to the difficulty and the danger” of the UN mission, the UN chief told the UN General Assembly.

Both sides “must realize that we have a brief window to stop the violence, a brief opportunity to create an opening for political engagement between the government and those seeking change,” he warned.

If the violence did not stop, Ban said he feared “a full-scale civil war with catastrophic effects within Syria and across the region.”

Regime behind blasts, says opposition

The Observatory says that almost 12,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Syria since the revolt, inspired by Arab Spring uprisings, broke out in March last year.

About 800 of them have died since a UN-backed truce was supposed to have taken effect on April 12.

The opposition Syrian National Council accused the regime of being behind the Daraa blast.

“We believe the regime is using these tactics to try to push the observers out amid popular demands to increase their numbers,” SNC executive committee member Samir Nashar told AFP.

Annan told the UN Security Council on Tuesday the priority in Syria was “to stop the killing,” and expressed concern that torture, mass arrests and other human rights violations were intensifying.

Annan plans to visit Damascus for a second time in the coming weeks, his spokesman said, though this depended on events on the ground.

The envoy said the current observers on the ground “have had a calming effect” and the deployment by the end of the month of a 300-strong team would see a “much greater impact.”

A statement from the mission said 113 staff — 70 military observers and 43 civilians — were already on the ground. – Agence France-Presse