Car bombs kill at least 45, injure scores, in Damascus neighborhood
By Babak Dehghanpisheh,
BEIRUT — Two car bombs tore through crowds in a neighborhood in southeastern Damascus on Wednesday, killing at least 45 people in the Syrian capital and injuring more than 120, according to opposition activists.
The neighborhood, Jaramana, is a mixed area of mostly Christian and Druze residents that is generally viewed as supportive of the Syrian government and has been the target of several attacks in recent months.
Syrian state television aired video footage of pools of blood in the street and demolished cars at the explosion site, along with building facades pockmarked by shrapnel.
The official Syrian Arab News Agency said the attack was carried out by “terrorists,” the label used by state media to refer to opposition fighters, and reported that two smaller explosive devices had detonated elsewhere in Damascus, causing “minor material damage.”
Some activists blamed the government for the attack and said it was a deliberate attempt to smear the opposition and create sectarian strife.
The two car bombs had been placed on the same street and were detonated about 10 minutes apart, leading some Syrians to conclude that the timing was a deliberate attempt to maximize casualties. The tactic was used often by insurgents in Iraq during the height of the civil war there between Shiites and Sunnis in 2006 and 2007.
“A lot of people were running toward the explosion,” said a 50-year-old man working at a business in Jaramana, who asked not to be identified for his safety. “My workers wanted to go there and help, as well, but I told them to stay.”
The man said his employers had to replace the glass in the windows of his workplace three times in recent months because of explosions. “I don’t see the point of replacing it anymore,” he said.
Another car bomb was detonated in the town of Busra in the southern province of Daraa, according to state media. No information was given on casualties.
As the violence continued across Syria, members of the political opposition met in Cairo for talks on the formation of a transitional government, although the meeting reportedly devolved quickly into squabbling over the distribution of seats in a new opposition body formed in Qatar this month.
Meanwhile, rebel forces continued a string of recent successes in Syria’s northwest, taking over a military base and shooting down a MiG jet in Aleppo province, according to activists.
Rebel forces also announced the capture of Brig. Gen. Mustafa Mayouf, the head of state security for the Damascus suburb of Daraya, on Wednesday.
The Local Coordination Committees, an activist network, reported that three other airplanes and a helicopter were also shot down Wednesday, although no video footage or additional information was provided to support the claim.
In the past week, rebel fighters have taken control of at least half a dozen bases around the country, a sign that the opposition may be gaining momentum in its battle against the Syrian government. The challenge for the rebel forces, observers say, will be to hold territory and consolidate their gains.
The base overrun by rebel fighters in Aleppo province Wednesday belonged to the Syrian military’s 608th Air Defense Battalion, and videos posted online showed some of the hardware captured in the raid that the fighters may use to boost their arsenal.
In one video, a man films a number of large, white, mounted missiles as he walks across the base. “These are the missiles of Assad,” he says. “By the permission of Allah, they are ours now.”
Another video shows a fighters using an anti-aircraft gun purportedly confiscated at the base.
The authenticity of the videos could not be independently verified because of the Syrian government’s restrictions on media access to the country.
The downing of the MiG jet Wednesday in the town of Darat Ezzah, 20 miles west of Aleppo, came a day after a video was posted online that appeared to show a helicopter being blasted by a surface-to-air missile.
The attack on the MiG raised the possibility that rebels have gained access to a supply of surface-to-air missiles, either confiscated from Syrian military bases or donated by the opposition’s foreign supporters.
Video footage posted online Wednesday showed the flaming wreck of the plane plummeting down and exploding into a massive black cloud.
Another video posted Wednesday showed a bloody and unconscious man in what appeared to be a green pilot’s uniform being carried by three men.
“This is the pilot that was shelling the houses of the citizens,” one man in the video says. “The heroes of Darat Ezzah shot down his jet.”
The alleged pilot is shown laid out on a bed in a sandbagged room in a third video as medical personnel examine him.
Ahmed Ramadan contributed to this report.