Syrian rebels bomb army HQ in Damascus

 

Reuters

A Syrian rebel bomb attack reduced the army headquarters in Damascus to a smouldering wreck today as world leaders, unable to break the diplomatic deadlock in the conflict, met at the United Nations.

The rebels said the assault on President Bashar al-Assad's power base in the center of the capital killed dozens of people.

The army said four guards were killed and 14 wounded in what it said were suicide attacks. No senior officers were hurt in the blasts, which shook the whole city just before the start of the working day, it said.

It was the biggest attack in Damascus since 18 July when a bombing killed several senior security officials, including Assad's brother-in-law, the defence minister and a general.

Since then Assad's forces have pushed back rebels to the outskirts of the capital but have lost control of several border crossings, struggled to win back the northern city of Aleppo and mounted air strikes to crush opposition in rebel territory.

State television showed CCTV footage of a white minibus pulling up by the side of the road and exploding in a ball of flames. It showed another blast 10 minutes later, apparently inside the complex.

The explosions struck as world leaders met at the United Nations, where deadlock over Syria has blocked a united global response to a conflict which activists say has killed 30,000 people, forced a quarter of a million refugees to flee the country and left 2.5 million people in need of help.

The uprising, which erupted in March last year as mainly peaceful protests for reform, has become an armed insurgency pitting mainly Sunni Muslim rebels against Assad, from the Alawite faith which is close to Shi'ite Islam.

Shi'ite Iran supports Assad while regional Sunni powers have backed the rebels.

One Sunni leader, the Emir of Qatar, told the United Nations that Arab countries should intervene "to stop the bloodshed", but few Arab states are likely to back his call.

In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin rebutted calls for an intervention. Any attempt to unilaterally use force or interfere with events in the Middle East would be counter-productive, he said.

The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the violence through a network of activists in the country, said 240 people were killed in Syria on Tuesday. Most were civilians but the death toll included 54 members of Assad's security forces.

Activists said security forces killed more than 40 people in a town outside Damascus on Thursday, calling it a massacre.

Video published by activists showed rows of bloodied corpses wrapped in blankets in the town of Dhiyabia. The victims appeared to be male, from 20-year-olds to elderly men.

The Syrian Observatory said it could confirm 40 dead.

"A massacre in the Dhiyabia area," says the voice of an activist in the video. "God damn you Bashar. The bodies are in the dozens. Look, Muslims, look what this dictator is doing."

Internet footage of today's fire at the General Staff Command Building showed flames engulfing its upper floors.

"The attack in Damascus once again proves that, with sufficient planning and co-ordination, the opposition appears to retain the ability to strike at the heart of regime," said David Hartwell, Middle East analyst at IHS Jane's.

"This is despite the fact that the FSA has appeared in recent weeks to be under pressure as a result of the fighting in Aleppo and other parts of the country."

The main gate of the military complex was blackened from fire while windows of the building were blown out. Glass shards littered streets and a deep crater was gouged in the road.

Residents reported that gunfire rattled out around the district for at least two hours after the explosions.

"All our colleagues in the military leadership, the army staff command and the Defence Ministry are unhurt," Information Minister Omran Zoabi told Syrian Television.

"It's a terrorist act, close to an important site, that's true. But as usual they failed to achieve their goal," he said.

Activist Samir al-Shami said the main explosions were caused by a suicide car bomb and second car loaded with explosives on the perimeter of the complex.

"Then the fighters went inside and clashed with security inside, while some of the men started to torch the building," he said.

That tallied with accounts from residents who heard gunfire and smaller blasts after the first explosions.

"The explosions were very loud. They shook the whole city and the windows of our house were shuddering," one resident reached by telephone said.

A correspondent for Iran's English-language Press TV was shot dead by a rebel sniper and its Damascus bureau chief was wounded while they covered Wednesday's explosions, Press TV said.

Pro-Assad gunmen also killed at least 16 people in Damascus, the British-based Observatory said. It said three of those killed in the poor district of Barzeh, which is sympathetic to opposition fighters, were children and six were women.

At the annual U.N. General Assembly in New York, French President Francois Hollande sought to shake up international inertia over the crisis by calling for UN protection of rebel-held areas.

"The Syrian regime ...has no future among us," Hollande said in a speech on Tuesday. "Without any delay, I call upon the United Nations to provide immediately to the Syrian people all the support it asks of us and to protect liberated zones."

Protection for "liberated" areas would require no-fly zones enforced by foreign aircraft, which could stop deadly air raids by Assad's forces on populated areas. But there is little chance of securing a Security Council mandate for such action given the opposition of veto-wielding members Russia and China.

The United States, European allies, Turkey and Gulf Arab states have sided with the Syrian opposition while Iran, Russia and China have backed Assad, whose family and minority Alawite sect have dominated Syria for 42 years.

Western powers have stopped short of supplying military aid to the rebels to an extent that could turn the tide of the conflict, in part out of fear of arming Islamist militants who have joined the anti-Assad revolt.

Reuters

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific