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Middle East

Thousands attend funerals for Syrian bomb victims 


Thousands of mourners carrying Syrian flags and pictures of the dead took part in a mass funeral today for 44 people killed in twin suicide bombings that targeted intelligence agency compounds in Damascus.

Mourners carried coffins draped in the red, white and black Syrian flags into the eighth-century Omayyad Mosque, where they were placed on the ground for prayers. 

"Martyr after martyr, we want nobody but (Bashar) Assad," they shouted in support of the embattled Syrian president. 

The government linked yestrerday's bombings to the uprising against Assad's autocratic rule and blamed the al-Qa'ida terrorist network. They were the first suicide bombings since the unrest began in mid-March, adding new and ominous dimensions to a conflict that has already brought the country to the brink of civil war. 

Striking just moments apart, the attackers used powerful car bombs to target the heavily guarded compounds. The explosions shook the capital, which has been relatively untouched by the uprising, and left mutilated and torn bodies amid rubble, twisted debris and burned cars. 

The opposition, however, has questioned the government's account and hinted the regime itself could have been behind the attacks, noting it came a day after the arrival of an advance team of Arab League observers investigating Assad's bloody crackdown of the popular revolt. 

The government has long contended that the turmoil in Syria this year is not an uprising by reform-seekers but the work of terrorists and foreign-backed armed gangs. 

Women dressed in black wailed during the funeral procession, which was aired by state-run Syrian TV. Some blamed the emir of Qatar, seen by supporters of Assad as leading the campaign against the regime. 

"Those terrorists are funded by the emir of Qatar to kill innocent people, but they won't succeed," cried Fawakeh Shaqiri, 56, who was dressed in black and carrying a Syrian flag. 

All the coffins held the names of the bombing victims, except for six coffins carrying the remains of people who had not been identified. 

Syrian officials said a suicide attacker detonated his explosives-laden car as he waited behind a vehicle driven by a retired general who was trying to enter a military intelligence building in Damascus' upscale Kfar Sousa district yesterday morning. About a minute later, a second attacker blew up his SUV at the gate of the General Intelligence Agency, the officials said. 

Government officials took the Arab League observers to the scene of the explosions and said it supported their accounts of who was behind the violence. 

The blasts came as the government escalated its crackdown this week ahead of the arrival of the Arab League observers. More than 200 people were killed in two days, including in an attack Tuesday in which activists and witnesses said troops pounded more than 100 fleeing villagers trapped in a valley with shells and gunfire, killing all of them. 

The United Nations says more than 5,000 people have been killed since March, when the uprising began and the regime responded by deploying tanks and troops to crush protests across Syria.