U.N. envoy condemns twin bombings in Syria; death toll at 55
BEIRUT -- United Nations envoy Kofi Annan condemned the twin bombings that rocked the Syrian capital of Damascus on Thursday morning, attacks that further shattered a cease-fire he has been working to save, as the death toll climbed to 55.
The explosions struck at rush hour in the Al Qazaz neighborhood and tore through a crowded intersection near a military intelligence branch, injuring 372 people, both civilians and members of the military, officials said. The blast was heard and felt throughout the city.
In a statement released by his spokesman, Annan reiterated his call to all parties to adhere to the weeks-old cease-fire. Previous calls for a stop to the violence have gone unheeded as President Bashar Assad's security forces have continued a brutal crackdown on dissent and some opposition fighters have taken up arms again.
The two explosions, which state media said were caused by suicide car bombers, happened seconds apart:
Syrian state TV broadcast bloody scenes from the site of the attack, cars and their occupants charred beyond recognition and a deep crater in the road.
One man pointed at an incinerated body inside a burned-out vehicle and said: "Is this freedom? Is this freedom they wanted?"
The Interior Ministry said the two suicide car bombs were loaded with more than 2,200 pounds of explosives that caused two craters several yards wide.
This was not the first time the capital has been hit with an explosion, but it appeared to be the most powerful and deadliest. Two weeks ago, a bomb went off near a mosque as worshipers were leaving Friday prayers, killing at least eight people.
As in previous bombings, the regime has blamed the "terrorist" groups, the term it uses to refer to the opposition since anti-government protests began 14 months ago.
But members of the opposition said the explosions were the work of the government and that rebel fighters did not have to capability to launch such an attack.
"If the Free Syrian Army had this ability, it would have freed Syria a long time ago," said Moaz, an activist in Damascus who requested that his full name not be used for safety's sake.
The attack and the graphic video playing on a loop on state TV is a message to the opposition and to all Syrian citizens, he said.
"The message is don't mess with the regime and all the [U.N.] monitors don't matter to me [Assad] and I will convince the entire world with my point of view that there are terrorists in the country," Moaz said.
Norwegian Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, head of the United Nations monitoring mission in Syria, visited the site of the explosions along with a small team of observers.
"This is yet another example of the suffering brought upon the people of Syria from acts of violence," Mood said. "We have seen it here in Damascus, and we have seen it in other cities and villages across the country. We the world community are here with the Syrian people, and I call on everyone within and outside Syria to help stop this violence."
On Wednesday, Mood and other monitors were in a convoy that passed through a military checkpoint in the southern province of Dara just seconds before a roadside bomb went off. No one with the U.N. was hit, but 10 Syrian soldiers were injured.
Earlier this week in his briefing to the Security Council, Annan spoke of the worrying spate of recent bombings. He warned that Syria could descend into civil war.
-- Times staff
Photo: A picture released by the Syrian Arab News Agency, or SANA, shows burning vehicles at the site of twin blasts in Damascus on Thursday. Credit: AFP / Ho / SANA