Damascus Bombs Kill 27 as Syria Gears Up for UN Visit

Posted March 17th, 2012 at 5:45 pm (UTC-5)
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Twin car bombings struck government targets in the Syrian capital Saturday, killing 27 people and wounding 140 others, mostly civilians.

State media said the blasts occurred minutes apart near a police security building and an intelligence center in Damascus.

State TV showed gruesome images of the scene, with smoke billowing from the explosion sites, twisted steel and debris strewn in front of a blasted-out building, and the mangled remains of victims. It also interviewed dozens of people, many of whom blamed Gulf leaders and Arab satellite channels for provoking unrest in their country.

Syria's Religious Affairs minister blamed Islamic extremists and radical Islamic clerics for the violence, saying “the clerics are talking about sectarian conflict and hate and they bear responsibility for their words. The duty of clerics, the minister said, is not to preach conflict, but kind words that lead to love, mercy and forgiveness.”

Syrian opposition activist, Mohammed Sawwal told al-Jazeera TV that he thought the Syrian government itself was behind the blasts. He claimed that the security forces re-routed minibuses away from the explosion sites moments before the blasts.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Syrian officials blamed “terrorists,” saying two suicide bombers blew themselves up near government buildings.

The explosions occurred as a team of U.N. experts is preparing to begin a trip to Syria to discuss the possible deployment of international monitors, as part of efforts to curb deadly violence from the government's crackdown on dissent.

In Washington, a peaceful protest was held Saturday with demands for more U.S. help to protect Syrian civilians. Protesters called for Mr. Assad to step down and for more U.S. assistance to help speed his resignation.

In Paris Saturday, anti-Syrian government protesters chanted “Long live Arab revolution.” One of the protesters expressed hope that France will continue to support the uprising as well as the Free Syrian Army.

Egyptian presidential hopeful and former Arab League chief, Amr Moussa, said that Syrian regime change is inevitable. He said it is only “a matter of time before change will be the determining factor in the future of the Arab world and the Middle East.”

Former U.N. chief Kofi Annan said Syria's political turmoil needs to be handled carefully to avoid any “miscalculations” that could lead to a “major escalation” that could affect the entire region.

Mr. Annan is serving as a special U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria. He traveled to Damascus last week and discussed proposals with Mr. Assad on ending Syria's political turmoil.

The U.N. says more than 8,000 people have died since the anti-government uprising began a year ago.