Blast strikes near Damascus hotel used by UN

 

A bomb attached to a fuel truck exploded outside a Damascus hotel where UN observers are staying in the Syrian capital, wounding at least three people, Syria's state TV reported.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad toured the area of the blast and said none of the UN staff was hurt. The explosion occurred as UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos was in the Syrian capital but her team is believed to be staying at a different hotel.

The blast was the latest in a series of explosions that have hit Damascus in the past months as clashes between government troops and rebels reached the Syrian capital, which had been relatively quiet since an uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime erupted in March last year.

Today's explosion took place near a parking lot used by the army command in Damascus, about 300 meters (yards) away, the state TV said.

But according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene, the blast went off inside a different parking lot, one belonging to a military compound and not the military command. The lot is near the Dama Rose Hotel, popular with the UN observers in Syria and where many of the mission staff are staying.

The hotel was slightly damaged, with some of its windows shattered. A Labor Union building across from the hotel was also damaged and black smoke was seen billowing high into the sky before the fire was extinguished. Several fire engines arrived shortly after to fight the blaze, which took less than an hour to put out.

UN officials in Damascus had no immediate comment when contacted by the AP. None of the dozen UN vehicles parked near the hotel were damaged.

"This is a criminal act that shows what kind of attacks Syria is being subjected to," Mekdad, the deputy foreign minister, told reporters at the scene. "Such explosions will not affect Syria."

"I confirm that we are with the UN and we will do all we can to guarantee their protection so that they carry out their role," he added.

Activists say more than 20,000 people have been killed since the start of Syria's revolt, inspired by other Arab Spring uprisings against autocratic regimes in the region, and the conflict has slowly morphed into a full-out civil war.

It was not immediately clear who was behind today's explosion or what was the intended target. There have been several high-profile bombings in the Syrian capital. On July 18, an explosion in a key government headquarters in Damascus killed four top generals, including President Bashar Assad's brother-in-law. And in March, a double suicide bombing in Damascus killed 27 people.

"Those who carry out such terrorist attacks are destroying their country in order to get some pounds," shouted a Damascus resident, Ali Mohammed Ismail, 48, who said he happened to be in the area when the explosion went off.

Elsewhere in Syria on today, activists reported shelling and clashes in the northern city of Aleppo, Syria's largest, where rebels took over several neighborhoods over the past weeks.

Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the rebels were trying to take over a key dam in the northern town of Manbij, just east of Aleppo. It added that the army was using helicopter gunships in the battles near the dam, on the strategic Euphrates River.

The Local Coordination Committees, anther activist group, reported violence in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, northwestern region of Idlib, Daraa to the south and in Damascus suburbs.

The LCC said there was also fighting near a border crossing with Turkey that the rebels had captured last month. A local official in the Turkish border town of Reyhanli said clashes could be heard coming from the region on Tuesday but that the situation had calmed by today morning. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency said 757 Syrians fled their country and streamed into Turkey on today.

AP

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