Dozens killed as Damascus car bombs go off five minutes apart

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Twin car bombs have ripped through a Damascus suburb killing and wounding dozens of people.

The Syrian state news agency said the cars packed with explosives detonated early in the morning in the eastern Jaramana district which is mostly loyal to president Bashar Assad. At least 34 people died.

A series of blasts have struck regime targets since last December, raising fears of a rising Islamic militant element among the forces seeking to topple Assad.

The bombs went off in a car park between two commercial buildings. They were detonated within five minutes of one another as groups of labourers and employees were arriving to work.

The blasts shattered windows in nearby buildings, littering the street with glass and debris. Human remains were scattered on the pavement amid pools of blood.

After the first explosion, people rushed to the site to help the injured and then the second bomb went off, said Ismail Zlaiaa, 54, who lives nearby.

There were conflicting reports about the death toll. Hospitals said at least 30 bodies were brought in. The British-based Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on reports from the ground, said 29 people were killed. The state SANA news agency put the toll at 34.

Syria’s conflict started 20 months ago as an uprising against Assad and morphed into a civil war, with rebels taking up arms to fight back against a crackdown by the government. According to activists, 40,000 people have been killed since March 2011.

Assad blames the revolt on a conspiracy to destroy Syria, saying the uprising is being driven by foreign “terrorists” – a term the authorities use for the rebels – and not Syrians seeking change.

Analysts say most of those fighting Assad’s regime are ordinary Syrians and soldiers who have defected, disenchanted with the authoritarian government. But, increasingly, foreign fighters and those adhering to an extremist Islamist ideology are turning up on the front lines. The rebels try to play down the Islamists’ influence for fear of alienating Western support.

Rebels are predominantly members of the Sunni Muslim majority. In their push to take Damascus, they have frequently targeted state institutions and troops around the country. They have also often hit districts around the capital with the country’s minority communities, perceived to be allied with Assad’s Alawite sect, an offshoot Shiite group that dominates the regime.

Central Damascus – the seat of Assad power – has also seen scores of car bombs and mortar attacks that have targeted state security institutions and troops, areas
with homes of wealthy Syrians, army officers, security officials and other members of the regime.