BEIRUT -- Mortar shells apparently fired by anti-government rebels fell Wednesday in a Damascus district that is home to many members of President Bashar Assad’s Alawite sect, the second deadly attack in the area this week, raising the prospect of inflamed sectarian hostilities in the tense Syrian capital.
The mortar rounds struck as rebels appear to have stepped up a campaign of violence in the capital. Car bombs and other attacks have become almost daily occurrences, despite heavy security and many government checkpoints.
The official Syrian state news service said Wednesday’s mortar salvos targeted the Mazzeh Jabal 86 neighborhood, killing three people and leaving six others hospitalized, including three in critical condition.
State media blamed the attack on “terrorists,” its standard term for mostly Sunni Muslim rebels seeking to overthrow Assad’s government.
Mazzeh Jabal 86 is home to many officers in the Syrian military and security services, which are dominated by members of Assad’s minority Alawite sect, considered an offshoot of the Shiite branch of Islam. Syria’s Alawite minority is largely supportive of Assad in the face of the Sunni-led uprising against his family's more than 40 years of autocratic rule.
Reuters news service quoted a rebel Islamist group saying Wednesday’s mortar volleys targeted but missed the presidential palace, which sits on a hill overlooking the capital.
The mortar attack came two days after a car bomb exploded in a crowded square in the Mazzeh Jabal 86 district, killing 11 people and injuring dozens, state media said
Along with bombings, targeted killings of government figures and supporters also appear to be on the upswing in the capital.
On Wednesday, the state news agency reported that “an armed terrorist group” assassinated a judge, Abad Nadweh, using a bomb that was attached to his car and detonated remotely.
The judge’s killing came a day after the brother of the speaker of the pro-Assad parliament was shot to death in his car in Damascus as he headed to work, according to official accounts.
Last weekend, rebels in Damascus abducted and executed a well-known Palestinian Syrian television actor, Mohamed Rafeh. Rebels accused Rafeh of being a government informant and enforcer. Friends and family say the actor was killed in retribution for his outspoken support of Assad.
Earlier this week, heavy fighting was reported in Damascus between pro and anti-Assad Palestinian factions.
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--Patrick J. McDonnell
Photo: A handout picture released by Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reportedly shows damage caused by a mortar attack Wednesday in a residential district of Damascus. Credit: European Pressphoto Agency / SANA.