Damascus suicide bombing kills 25 and unleashes war of words

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A BOMB explosion at a busy Damascus intersection killed 25 people and wounded dozens yesterday in the second major attack in the Syrian capital in as many weeks, officials said.

The government blamed terrorists, saying a suicide bomber had blown himself up in the crowded Midan district.

But the country’s opposition have demanded an independent investigation, accusing forces loyal to the Syrian regime of being behind the bombing to tarnish a 10-month-old uprising against President Bashar Assad.

“Is there anything worse than these crimes?” said Majida Jomaa, a 30-year-old housewife who ran to the streets after hearing the explosion about 11am.

It was impossible to determine the exact target of the blast, but a police bus was riddled with shrapnel and blood was splattered on its seats, according to Syrian TV video and a government official. Blood also stained the street, which was littered with shattered glass.

The bomber “detonated himself with the aim of killing the largest number of people,” Interior Minister Mohammed Shaar told reporters. State media said most of the dead were civilians but security forces were among them.

Midan is one of several Damascus neighbourhoods that have seen frequent anti-Assad protests on Fridays since the uprising began in March, inspired by the revolutions around the Arab world.

The violence marks an escalation of bloodshed in Syria as Arab League observers tour the country to investigate Mr Assad’s bloody crackdown on dissent. The monitoring mission will issue its first findings tomorrow in Cairo.

Arab League Deputy Secretary-General Ahmed bin Helli condemned the attack.

“We are concerned about these explosions. That is why we are calling on the Syrian government to be totally cooperative with the mission and to work by all means to stop the bloodshed and allow room for the political process to begin,” he told reporters in Cairo, where the league is based.

In a statement, the Interior Ministry vowed to respond to any security threats with an “iron fist”.

Syria’s state media, Sana, put the initial death toll at 25 and more than 60 wounded. The death toll included 10 confirmed dead and the remains of an estimated 15 others whose bodies had yet to be identified.

“I found bodies on the ground, including one of a man who was carrying two boxes of yoghurt,” Midan resident Anis Hassan Tinawi, 55, said.

The blast came exactly two weeks after twin bombings targeting intelligence agencies in Damascus killed 44 people. The regime blamed terrorists for those explosions as well.

A Syrian official said a smaller bomb exploded yesterday in the Damascus suburb of Tal, killing a girl. Security experts dismantled another device nearby, he said.

While many of the anti-government protests remain peaceful, the uprising has become more violent in recent months as frustrated demonstrators take up arms to protect themselves from the steady military assault. An increasing number of army defectors also have launched attacks, killing soldiers and security forces.

The unrest has posed the most serious challenge to the Assad family’s 40-year dynasty. The regime’s crackdown has led to worldwide condemnation and sanctions, eviscerated the economy and left Mr Assad an international pariah.

Protests continued around the country yesterday, and security forces killed at least eight people, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Observatory said 50,000 protesters took to the streets in the Damascus suburb of Douma in the largest protest of the day.