A bomb has exploded at a busy Damascus intersection, killing 25 people and wounding dozens in the second major attack in the Syrian capital in as many weeks, officials say, vowing to respond to further security threats with an “iron fist.”
The government blamed “terrorists” for Friday’s blast, saying a suicide bomber had blown himself up in the crowded Midan district. However, the country’s opposition demanded an independent investigation, accusing forces loyal to the Syrian regime of being behind the bombing to tarnish a 10-month-old uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“Is there anything worse than these crimes?” said Majida Jomaa, a 30-year-old housewife who ran on to the streets after hearing the explosion at about 11am. “Is this freedom?”
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,” Syrian Interior Minister Mohammed Shaar told reporters. State media said most of the dead were civilians, but security forces were also among them.
Midan is one of several Damascus neighborhoods 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 a dramatic escalation of bloodshed in Syria as Arab League observers tour the country to investigate Assad’s bloody crackdown on dissent. The monitoring mission will issue its first findings today at a meeting in Cairo.
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.
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, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to talk publicly to the media, said a smaller bomb exploded on Friday in the Damascus suburb of Tal, killing a girl. Security experts dismantled another bomb nearby, he said.
While many of the anti-government protests sweeping the country remain peaceful, the uprising as a whole 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 have also launched attacks, killing soldiers and security forces.
Protests continued on Friday around the country and security forces killed at least eight people, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, put the death toll at 17.
The Observatory said 50,000 protesters took to the streets in the Damascus suburb of Douma in the largest protest of the day. However, the numbers were impossible to confirm because Syria has banned most foreign journalists and prevented independent reporting.
The government has long contended that the turmoil in Syria is not an uprising, but the work of terrorists and foreign-backed armed gangs.