Two powerful car bombings on Friday in Syria's most populous city of Aleppo has escalated the nationwide contest for political ascendancy but also seemingly diverted some attention from the embattled city of Homs where perceptions of gross human rights violations has put the regime of President Bashar Al Assad firmly on the defensive.
Syrian State television is reporting that 25 people have been killed and 175 injured following two huge car bombings that targeted two buildings — one housing the military intelligence directorate, and another a police headquarters.
Televised images showed bodies, smeared with blood, on the ground near the wrecked buildings. One of the attacked structures had been flattened, close to a deep crater, which had been apparently driven by the force of the explosion of one of the cars.
The bombings in Aleppo were similar to the attacks in December and January on two security buildings in the capital Damascus, during which 70 people had died. The attacks in Syria's two most important cities suggested that the grim struggle for political control between a hardy opposition and an implacable government was no longer confined to relatively peripheral Islamist strongholds such as Homs and Hamas.
The attacks in Aleppo —Syria's most populous city and a business hub, not far from the Turkish border, evoked memories of the seventies and eighties, when armed Sunni men fought a losing battle with the former strongman, Hafez Al Assad, father of present embattled President, Bashar Al Assad.
But the bold strikes, similar in execution to classic al-Qaeda bombings, also seemed to bolster the official narrative that “terrorists” had impregnated the ranks of the opposition which was responsible for the attacks.
But responding swiftly before the government got ahead in this round of psychological one-upmanship, Capt. Ammar al-Wawi, a spokesman for the Turkey- based Free Syria Army — an opposition core of military defectors — said that his group was in no way involved in the latest attacks. On the contrary, he accused the government of self-afflicting the strikes to “distract the world's attention from the massacres in Homs”.
On Friday, the opposition was working feverishly to intensify its international campaign against the Assad regime, accusing it of brazenly abusing human rights. The Local Co-ordination Committees, an umbrella opposition group, reported that 110 people had died in Homs on Thursday. The New York based Human Rights Watch is separately reporting that more than 300 people have been killed and hundreds more wounded in Homs on account of mortar fire and heavy shelling by government forces since Friday. In fresh findings released on Thursday, HRW has claimed that three field hospitals have been attacked, and heavy use of force by the government forces is preventing rescuers from attending to the injured, causing a spiral in the death toll.
The United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon has also weighed in unambiguously against the Assad regime, citing the humanitarian situation in Homs. “I fear that the appalling brutality we are witnessing in Homs, with heavy weapons firing into civilian neighbourhoods, is a grim harbinger of worse to come,” he observed.
Mr. Ban did not rule out the dispatch of a U.N.-Arab League team to independently take stock of internal conflict in Syria. Outside the conflict zone, there was hectic diplomatic activity to alter the script on Syria. The United States was working with its European and Arab partners to stage the inaugural meeting of the Friends of Syria group. On Thursday, the U.S. State Department announced that its chief West Asia envoy had already embarked on a whirlwind tour of Morocco, France and Bahrain to hammer out details about the group's membership and mandate. France and Turkey have already announced their intent to host the first Friends of Syria meeting.