BEIRUT -- The Syrian government and opposition activists exchanged accusations Friday after a mortar attack killed at least 20 people in Damascus’ sprawling Yarmouk district, home to tens of thousands of Palestinians.
Graphic video said to be from the scene showed the bloody and smoky aftermath: charred bodies, dazed victims, battered building -- scenes that have been repeated with a numbing regularity in strife-ravaged Syria.
The United Nations said 20 people were killed and 10 were injured in the attack.
The barrage late Thursday on the southern outskirts of the capital appear to have struck when many people were in the streets after dusk, when Muslims break their Ramadan fast. Yarmouk is home to more than 100,000 people, including one of Syria’s largest concentrations of Palestinian refugees.
Opposition activists blamed government forces that have been battling rebels based in nearby Tadamon and other districts. Much of the Tadamon area fell under rebel control last month, along with other capital neighborhoods. A determined military counterattack seemed to bring most of the capital back under government control, though there has been sporadic fighting in recent days.
The government has for months adopted a strategy of shelling civilian districts suspected of housing opposition fighters. Human rights advocates have condemned the practice that, the opposition says, has caused the deaths of many civilians.
The official Syrian news agency said an “armed terrorist group” had fired mortar rounds into Yarmouk, using the official term for rebels seeking to overthrow President Bashar Assad. Mortars are a weapon usually associated with the government, but armed rebels have captured some government armories and have som home-made mortars.
The rebellion in Syria has left hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who live in Syria in a precarious position. Many have tried to remain neutral. Some have joined the rebellion. Others have voiced support for the Assad government.
Many of the Palestinians have fled to Jordan, joining an exodus of Syrian refugees there. Palestinians have reported that Syrian troops seeking rebels have besieged some Palestinian camps and neighborhoods in Syria.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday strongly condemned what he termed the “heinous” attack on Yarmouk.
-- Patrick J. McDonnell
Photo: In an image taken from an amateur video, a man walks past a fire after a mortar attack on the Yarmouk district of Damascus. It was not possible to verify the authenticity of the image. Credit: Shaam News Network