A string of bomb blasts ripped through Syria yesterday, including three powerful explosions in the north-western city of Idlib – killing nine people – highlighting the momentous challenge facing the UN monitoring mission as it attempts to shore up a threadbare ceasefire.
The attacks took place less than 24 hours after veteran peacekeeper Major General Robert Mood touched down to take control of the 30-strong advance team of unarmed international observers, and appeared to represent an escalation of violence by rebels that could jeopardise the deployment of the full 300-strong team approved by the UN Security Council and the beleaguered peace plan brokered by Kofi Annan.
State television broadcast footage of the aftermath of the blasts in Idlib, which showed bodies lying in the streets, mangled cars and a destroyed tower block. It claimed two suicide bombers blew up cars in the morning, killing nine people.
The blasts targeted the local headquarters of the intelligence services for the air force and army, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. It put the death toll at nearer 20, and many of those killed were members of the security forces. Hours later, a third explosion took place outside an army office near a detention centre, activists said. It was unclear if there were casualties.
The Free Syrian Army denied involvement in the attacks, but whether its leadership has control of all elements of Syria's disparate opposition groups is questionable. Islamist group, Al Nusra Front to Protect the Levant, claimed responsibility for a major bombing in the Al Midan neighbourhood on Friday, which killed at least 11 people, largely security forces.
One activist told The Independent the opposition, poorly matched against army firepower, is turning to homemade bombs and ambushes. "After the siege on Baba Amr we realised we couldn't afford to hold land, so we switched to a hit and run strategy," he said.
Another blast hit a checkpoint in Hama, claimed the Local Coordination Committees, and several explosions were reported in the capital, Damascus, including a rocket propelled grenade on the Central Bank, which the government blamed on an "armed terrorist group".
The LCC accused the government of staging the attacks in Damascus to bolster their narrative. "We all recall the series of explosions that occurred when the Arab League observers were present in Syria, and the regime is welcoming the head of the UN Observer Mission in the same manner," it said.
The UN had said all 30 members of the advance team would be in Syria by yesterday but last night refused to confirm this, saying they would no longer give daily updates on numbers in Syria.