Bombing, clashes kill scores in Syria


Sat, Feb 09, 2013 - Page 7

A bombing at a bus stop near a military factory in central Syria this week killed 54 people, all civilian workers at the plant, an activist group said yesterday.

Rami Abdul-Rahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the explosion took place on Wednesday in the village of al-Buraq, near the central city of Hama.

The area is government-controlled, which is why reports on the blast were slow to emerge, he said.

A mini-bus packed with explosives blew up near a bus stop where factory workers were waiting to go home after work, said Abdul-Rahman. The dead included 11 women. He said the factory makes military supplies, but not weapons.

“These people work for the Ministry of Defense, but they are all civilians,” he said “There was no one from the military” killed in the blast.

In violence yesterday, the Observatory reported clashes and regime shelling in the southern and eastern sectors of the Syrian capital, Damascus, including in the restive suburb of Moadamiyeh, where six people were killed by government shelling overnight.

On Thursday, troops overran a rebel town and were locked in a second day of fierce clashes around Damascus, as Islamic states urged Syria’s regime and its foes to hold “serious” talks to end the bloodshed.

Opposition leader Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib has offered to hold peace talks with Syrian Vice President Faruq al-Sharaa, but Damascus has so far ignored the initiative and intensified attacks on rebel bastions.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta admitted for the first time that the Pentagon had backed proposals to arm the rebels, but the White House rejected the idea on fears of the risks involved, the New York Times reported.

After a 16-day onslaught, troops retook Karnaz on the strategic Damascus-Aleppo highway, Abdul-Rahman said.

The outgunned rebel “fighters withdrew from Karnaz, which they seized in December last year, after heavy fighting and regular forces regained control,” he said.

Clashes and heavy shelling rocked rebel strongholds around Damascus on the second day of an army offensive the Observatory said had killed at least 64 people on Wednesday.

Mortar rounds killed six civilians in the northeastern district of Qaboon, among at least 92 people who died in nationwide violence on Thursday, a preliminary toll from the watchdog showed.

“The army is determined to crush terrorism around the capital and big cities, and over the past several days it has launched a qualitative operation and killed dozens of terrorists who dreamt of attacking and entering Damascus,” pro-regime newspaper al-Watan wrote.

The Observatory, which relies on a network of sources for its information, also reported regime shelling and clashes along a southern highway of the capital.

On the outskirts of the city, the Observatory said troops pounded rebel positions across the east and in the south, and that clashes erupted to the northeast.

These areas are among the strongest bastions of the rebellion against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which is battling to suppress a revolt the UN says has killed more than 60,000 people.