Two powerful car bombs struck Syrian security compounds Friday in the country’s most populous city, Aleppo, killing more than 25 and threatening major shifts in the 11-month civil conflict.
The bombings at a military intelligence headquarters and a security forces barracks ripped the facades off buildings, upended vehicles and left bodies and body parts in the streets. Scenes of all this were quickly displayed on state TV that denounced the “terrorists” who carried out the brutal attacks. The blasts could be heard from several kilometres away.
Aleppo, a city of two million and Syria’s commercial hub, has been spared until now any serious violence in the current uprising, and large-scale demonstrations against the regime have only recently taken place.
The attacks were remarkably similar to twin bombings that took place in Damascus early last month. In both cases, they occurred on Friday mornings and the targets were high-value military or security compounds. The effect of the attacks in the two cities was to distract attention from the civilian casualties in government assaults on Syrian cities and to renew passionate defence of the Bashar al-Assad regime.
No one in the opposition camp claimed responsibility for any of the bombings and attributed them to the Syrian government seeking to portray the opposition in the worst possible light.
“The explosions happened after the government withdrew its forces from the compounds,” Riad al-Assad, commander of the Free Syria Army, told the al-Jazeera satellite television network from his base in Turkey. “We denounce this attack.”
Of note, however, Captain Ammar al-Wawi, also of the FSA, acknowledged that fighters from his group had a short gun battle with troops several hundred metres from the intelligence offices about an hour before the explosion, though he denies they carried out the bombings. Such gun battles are rare in Aleppo.
Coming shortly before the Arab League meets Sunday in Cairo to discuss new ways to confront the al-Assad regime, the deadly bombings may be used as evidence that the conflict is truly a civil war and not the one-sided crackdown it is portrayed as being.
Indeed, Moscow, whose foreign minister and military intelligence chief met Tuesday in Damascus with Mr. al-Assad, accused Western states Friday of inciting the opposition as well as sending it arms. It threatened “drastic measures” if Western interference continued.
Reports late Friday from Damascus indicated that an intense firefight had taken place in a northern neighbourhood between FSA rebel forces and government troops. It was the closest to the centre of the capital any such violence has occurred.
The instability in Syria’s two largest cities poses a serious challenge to Mr. al-Assad. The country’s merchant class has been one of the regime’s stalwart defenders, and were events in Aleppo and Damascus to escalate, it could add to the pressure mounting against Mr. al-Assad’s rule.
Shelling was reported to have continued for a seventh consecutive day in the country’s third largest city Homs. As has been the case all week, the target areas of Insha’at and Baba Amr are said to be areas where rebel forces are concentrated. The most apparent victims, however, are large numbers of civilians, scores of whom have been killed during this time.
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah took the unusual step Friday of speaking out publically against the Syrian regime and those countries, Russia and China, who protect it.
“We are going through scary days and unfortunately what happened at the United Nations [last Saturday]is absolutely regrettable,” King Abdullah said in a brief televised address. His reference was to the vetoing by Moscow and Beijing of a UN Security Council resolution that would have called for Mr. al-Assad to hand over powers to his vice-president in order to negotiate a transition to democracy.