The head of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) has accused Bashar al-Assad’s regime of attempting to assassinate him with a car bomb, jeopardising tentative steps towards negotiations between the two sides.
The explosion that ripped through a crossing on the border between Syria and Turkey killed 14 people but narrowly missed an SNC delegation on its way into Syria to visit refugees and rebel fighters.
The organisation’s head, George Sabra, told The Independent he believed “for sure” that the blast was a car bomb intended for his group, blaming the regime.
The accusation comes at a sensitive time, following overtures by the opposition National Coalition – on which the SNC holds the majority of seats – to engage in dialogue with the regime.
Factions within the SNC have always insisted on Mr Assad’s departure as a precondition for talks, raising concerns that accusations over the assassination attempt may make them more insistent.
For four days the delegation of 13 opposition politicians had travelled in and out of Syria through the Bab al-Hawa crossing, which has become a key transit point for refugees and goods since it fell into rebel hands last summer. But on Monday afternoon, as the group was scheduled to arrive, a mini-van with Syrian number plates drove in from the rebel-controlled side of the border and parked next to the first Turkish checkpoint.
The three men inside the vehicle slipped away – caught on security footage as one left for Turkey and two for Syria. Twenty minutes later the van, packed with TNT, was detonated by remote control, setting off a powerful explosion.
“We were supposed to go through the gate at that time but we were delayed for half an hour because some of our group wanted to stop to pray,” Mr Sabra said. “The explosion happened at exactly the time we were supposed to be there.”
Turkey’s Justice Minister, Sadullah Ergin, described the attack as an “act of terror” saying that civilians were the “clear targets”. Four of those killed were Turks and the rest Syrians, while at least 25 others were wounded.