Syrians Mourn 26 Killed in Damascus Bombing

Posted January 7th, 2012 at 10:45 am (UTC-5)
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Mourners in Damascus shouted their support for President Bashar al-Assad Saturday at the funerals of 26 people killed in a bomb attack in the capital.

The Assad government says the devastating explosion Friday, which also wounded more than 60 people, was a “terrorist” attack, allegedly by opposition groups that have been campaigning for the past 10 months for the president's removal.

For their part, opposition activists deny any involvement in the bombing. They contend the government staged the explosion itself to create a backlash against those calling for a government upheaval.

Most of those killed in the attack Friday appeared to be policemen riding on a bus that was shattered by the force of the explosion. A lieutenant general from the interior ministry was quoted by name in Syrian state media as asserting that a male suicide bomber triggered the blast in the central Midan district, but few other details were available.

Opposition activists say the Syrian regime's crackdown on protesters continued in several parts of the country late Friday, and they report 17 civilians were killed.

Activists also say Syrian security forces opened fire Saturday on anti-government demonstrators holding sit-ins in the central city of Homs and other areas. At least one person was killed.

Arab League ministers are to meet in Cairo Sunday to review the work of an observer mission the league has sent through Syria for the past two weeks. The observers were charged with finding out whether the Assad government has lived up to its pledge that its long-running crackdown on civilian protesters was at an end. Activists have criticized the observers for accepting Syrian government assistance and guidance in their work, and they contend the Arab League group was misled and steered toward staged shows of support for the government.

Mr. Assad has pledged to withdraw security forces from cities, release political prisoners and allow anti-government protests. Government reports of mass prisoner releases have not been verified, in part because almost all foreign journalists are barred from access to the country.

A global, online activist group that supports “people-power” movements worldwide, Avaaz, says nearly 7,000 people were killed in the Syrian unrest that began in early 2011. Avaaz says its casualty count was confirmed through contacts with multiple sources in Syria; it is substantially higher than even a United Nations estimate that 5,000 people have died since the uprising began in March.