Two strong explosions ripped through the Syrian capital yesterday, killing 55 people and leaving scenes of carnage in the streets in an assault against a center of government power, officials said.
The Syrian Ministry of the Interior said more than 370 people were wounded in what one official said might have been the most powerful in a series of blasts to have hit the capital this year.
There was no claim of responsibility for yesterday’s attack on a military intelligence headquarters, but an al-Qaeda-inspired group has claimed responsibility for several large explosions targeting mostly security facilities since December last year, raising fears that extremist groups are entering Syria’s conflict and exploiting the chaos.
Yesterday’s explosions, which ripped the facade off the intelligence building, went off at about 7:50am when employees are usually arriving at work. The building is part of a broader military compound for a feared section of the intelligence services known as the Palestine Branch.
Major General Robert Mood, the Norwegian head of the UN’s cease-fire monitors in the country, toured the site and said the Syrian people did not deserve this “terrible violence.”
“It is not going to solve any problems,” he said, when asked what his message was to those who are carrying out such attacks. “It is only going to create more suffering for women and children.”
The explosions left two craters at the gate of the military -compound, one of them 3m deep and 6m wide. Residents said the two explosions occurred in quick succession: first a smaller blast, then a massive one.
Yesterday’s bombings were among the deadliest since such spectacular attacks started in December last year, with a double suicide bombing of a Damascus security building that killed at least 44 people.
Fresh attacks have followed in other cities, including Idlib in the north and Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and long considered a stronghold of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Most of the attacks target state security offices and occur early in the morning.
The government blames the bombings on the terrorists it says are behind the anti-al-Assad -uprising. Opposition leaders and activists routinely blame the regime for orchestrating the attacks, saying they help it demonize the opposition and maintain support among those who fear greater instability.
A shadowy group called the al-Nusra Front has claimed responsibility for some of the attacks in statements posted on military Web sites. Little is known about the group, though Western intelligence officials say it could be a front for al-Qaeda’s Iraq branch.
International diplomacy has failed to stop the bloodshed, and the UN has ruled out military intervention of the type that helped bring down former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, in part out of fear that it could exacerbate the violence.
Special UN envoy Kofi Annan brokered a peace plan last month, but the initiative has been troubled from the start, with government troops shelling opposition areas and rebels attacking military convoys and checkpoints after the ceasefire was supposed to begin on April 12.
Although the daily death toll has dropped in recent days, Annan said on Tuesday that the level of violence is unacceptable and that the plan’s failure could lead to civil war.
A team of 70 UN military -observers now in Syria should grow to more than 100 in the coming days. A full team of 300 is expected by the end of the month to oversee a ceasefire intended to allow for talks on a political solution to the conflict.