Car bombs rock cap­i­tal of Syria

Min­istry claims larger plot foiled in gov­ern­ment strong­hold

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Al­bert Aji, Sarah El Deeb and Zeina Karam of The As­so­ci­ated Press and by Ben Hub­bard of The New York Times.

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.

AP

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.

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