After three top Syrian officials were killed in a bomb blast in Damascus, dissidents celebrated across Syria, hoping the attack could be a turning point in the battles between rebels and the Syrian government. The capital, once insulated from fighting, has now been enmeshed in violence for four days.
“The activists here are in high spirits; it’s hectic over here but we smoke and drink tea (I am drinking tea now) and we joke all the time,” blogger Razan Ghazzawi wrote from the central Damascus district of Midan, where opposition activists say government troops have gathered to counter the rebels.
Ghazzawi said on her blog that clashes had begun early in the morning Wednesday and explosions could be heard “every now and then.” Medical masks were being handed out among activists and residents amid rumors that toxic gases would be fired into the neighborhood, Ghazzawi said.
Al Jazeera ran live streaming video of violence and protests in Damascus, airing images of street fighting in the heart of the city. It is unclear yet whether the skirmishes are a coordinated series of attacks to “liberate” Damascus, as a rebel leader has declared.
The bombing came as the United States and its allies were slated to face off with Russia at the United Nations over whether Syria should face economic sanctions. However, the U.N. reportedly decided to delay the vote on a new Syria resolution until Thursday in hopes of reaching an agreement.
The Local Coordination Committees activist network said at least 77 people had been killed Wednesday, including 28 in Damascus and its suburbs. The official Syrian Arab News Agency reported a “large number of terrorists” had been killed or arrested in Damascus after Syrian military chased them down in the Midan neighborhood. The Times was unable to confirm either account.
As news of the Syrian officials’ deaths spread, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition activist group, shared this video, said to be taken Wednesday in the Idlib town of Saraqib, where blaring car horns and gunshots fill the streets in celebration. The Times cannot verify the exact events shown:
This video, shared by an opposition activist, purports to show the aftermath of shelling in Midan:
This video, uploaded to YouTube on Wednesday, is said to show people celebrating in the streets of the Idlib town of Jrzinaz. Amid honking horns, protesters clap and wave the pre-Baath Syrian flag:
Opposition activists also spread several videos of helicopters in the Damascus area. The video below, shared by the Local Coordination Committees, is said to show a Syrian government helicopter firing on the Damascus neighborhood of Jobar:
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles and Alexandra Sandels in Beirut
Top video: A bombing at a cabinet meeting in Damascus has killed several members of Bashar Assad's inner circle, including his brother-in-law and Syria's defense minister. Credit: Associated Press