Car bombs rock capital of Syria
Ministry claims larger plot foiled in government stronghold
DAMASCUS, Syria — A series of car bomb explosions shook the Syrian capital early Sunday, killing at least eight people and wounding a dozen more, state media and others reported.
The attack in the heart of Syria’s capital unfolded ahead of the morning commute on the first work day after the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. An opposition monitoring group said the attacks highlighted security gaps in parts of the country controlled by President Bashar Assad.
The Interior Ministry said security forces tracked three cars laden with explosives and detonated two of them at checkpoints on the airport road on the edge of the city. The third made it into the city center, where it was surrounded by security forces. The suicide bomber then blew up the car near Tahrir Square.
The Syrian minister of local administration, Hussein Makhlouf, said the response marked a “major success in foiling a plot” to cause mass casualties.
There were conflicting casualty reports.
Syrian state TV reported eight killed and another 12 people wounded in the blast near Damascus’ old city. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the fighting with on-the-ground monitors, reported at least 12 killed. Lebanon’s Al-Manar TV, a Hezbollah-linked network that is close to the Syrian government, and Diary of a Mortar, a Syrian activist group in the capital, said 19 people were killed.
State TV showed footage of two scorched vehicles on the airport road, as well as footage from Tahrir Square showing a damaged building and mangled cars.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks, but the Islamic State extremist group and al-Qaidalinked militants have claimed recent attacks inside the city. Bomb attacks in March that targeted buses carrying pilgrims and a judicial building near the city center killed dozens of people.
Such attacks have been relatively rare in Damascus, the seat of power for Assad, who has begun appearing in public in a show of increased confidence after more than six years of battling a rebellion.
More than half of Syria’s prewar population of 22 million has been displaced since the start of the civil war, and millions of Syrians have sought refuge in neighboring countries. However, Assad has solidified his control over most of Syria’s main cities, where the majority of the country’s remaining population lives.
Pro-government forces have engaged in heavy fighting in Damascus’ suburbs during the war, but have largely kept the rebels out of the city center. In recent days, Syrian troops and allied forces have been fighting to drive the rebels out of Ain Terma and Jobar, adjacent areas on the city’s eastern outskirts that have been under rebel control since 2011.
The rebels said government forces attacked them with chlorine gas overnight, and the Observatory said 12 fighters were treated for suffocation. The Syrian military denied the claims, and there was no way to independently verify them.
The attacks come days before Russian-sponsored talks are to resume in the Kazakh capital, Astana, where the two sides agreed to a ceasefire earlier this year that has been repeatedly violated.
This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA shows damaged cars along the road to the airport in southeast Damascus, Syria, on Sunday.