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Bombs kill 27 in Damascus

Atul Aneja
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The site of the blast near the aviation intelligence department in Damascus, Syria,on Saturday. —Photo: AP
The site of the blast near the aviation intelligence department in Damascus, Syria,on Saturday. —Photo: AP

A twin car-bombing targeting two government buildings in the Syrian capital, Damascus, has caused heavy casualties, reinforcing claims by the Syrian government that it has become the victim of externally-backed terrorism.

Syria's state-run news agency, SANA, reported that the car bombs had targeted the aviation intelligence department and the criminal security department. This was followed by a spurt of shooting that sent those who had gathered scurrying for cover. At least 27 people have been killed and 97 wounded in Saturday's double-strike.

Suicide bombers had targeted Damascus earlier in December. On February 10, Syria's largest city and business hub, Aleppo, was rocked by twin blasts that killed 28 people.

As the explosions rocked Damascus, United Nations special envoy Kofi Annan appeared set for a deeper diplomatic intervention in Syria. The situation in the country remains in deep flux, despite greater military assertion by the regime in rebel strongholds of Homs and Idlib and Derra.

Annan dissatisfied

Addressing the media after briefing members of the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) on Friday via video link from Geneva, Mr. Annan made it plain that he was dissatisfied with the lack of unity on Syria among the Council members.

He stressed that the Security Council must speak with “one voice” on the Syrian issue — a veiled reference to the two camps that have emerged on Syria: one led by the United States and the Arab countries, and another comprising Russia and China.

On its part the Syrian side pledged support to Mr. Annan's mission, but also pointed to the need for addressing “foreign financing of terrorism” in the country. Syria has insisted that externally-backed armed fighters have taken over anti-regime protests in places like Homs and other major flashpoints where violence has flared.

Syria's critics, especially in the Gulf countries, however, insist that the Syrian regime was killing innocent civilians — a position that has become the basis for the call by Qatar and Saudi Arabia for arming the Syrian opposition.

On Friday, Syria's Foreign Ministry sent two letters to the U.N. Security Council's chief and the head of the U.N. Human Rights Council, stressing the country's readiness to establish a dialogue with all the Syrian opposition parties as well as independents.

Internal dialogue

Analysts say that Syria's decision is in line with Mr. Annan's advocacy that an inclusive intra-Syrian dialogue should pave the way for a peaceful resolution of the crisis, which had erupted a year ago. Russia, China and India have also said the solution to the conflict should be found by the Syrians themselves — a position that implicitly rejected the call for the exit of Syria's President, Bashar al-Assad.

Signalling that the wheels of diplomacy were turning fast, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said that Moscow was in constant touch with the Assad regime and “sending relevant signals to Damascus so as to ensure full cooperation between the Annan mission and Syrian leaders”.

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