UN Chief Blames al-Qaida for Syria Attack

Posted May 18th, 2012 at 12:05 am (UTC-5)
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U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he believes al-Qaida is behind twin bombings in Damascus, last week, that killed 55 people.

He said Thursday the terror group's possible involvement in Syria's unrest had “created again very serious problems.” In comments at a U.N. youth event, he also said Syria's death toll from 15 months of anti-government related unrest may have reached 10,000.

Two car bomb explosions rocked the capital on May 10, resulting in the country's deadliest attack since the start of the opposition uprising. A shadowy militant group known as the al-Nusra Front claimed responsibility.

The attacks further strained a fragile cease-fire negotiated by international envoy Kofi Annan.

More violence erupted on Thursday. The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said machine gun fire killed three people in the Homs region and government shelling left a fourth person dead elsewhere in the country.

The observatory and Syrian state-run media say assailants opened fire on a bus carrying law enforcement officers in Homs on Thursday, killing one person. The government blames “armed terrorists” for the attack.

In another development, Syria's fragmented opposition suffered another setback when the newly re-elected head of the main exiled coalition offered to resign. Syrian National Council chief Burhan Ghalioun cited criticism of his leadership and infighting that has plagued groups trying to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

Ghalioun said Thursday he does not want to be a cause of division in the opposition coalition and will step down as soon as a replacement is chosen through consensus or election.

The Paris-based secular academic has served as SNC leader since its formation last year and was elected Tuesday to another three-month term by a majority of SNC members who attended a meeting in Rome. Ghalioun promised to stay active in the group after his resignation.

Analysts say the SNC's leadership dispute highlights a major shortcoming of the Syrian opposition movement: a continued lack of unity in its battle to end Mr. Assad's 11-year rule. But, in a phone interview with VOA, SNC foreign relations head Bassma Kodmani said the leadership transition is an “opportunity” for the group to refocus its efforts on what she called its original purpose of serving the activists at the front line of the uprising inside Syria.

Western and Arab nations supporting the uprising have long urged the SNC to heal its divisions and present a credible alternative to the Assad government. But a series of prominent dissidents has quit the SNC in recent months, with some complaining that Islamists hold too much influence over the group.

Kodmani said the SNC will try to limit the influence of groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood by finding a balance in its membership that reflects Syria's political, religious and ethnic diversity.

Earlier Thursday, a faction of the SNC threatened to quit unless the organization restructures itself. The Local Coordination Committees accused SNC leaders of failing to cooperate with revolutionaries inside Syria and marginalizing young members of the organization. The LCC is an activist network whose members are mostly Syria-based.

The Local Coordination Committees' representative to the SNC told VOA that Ghalioun's offer to resign is a “step in the right direction” of reforming the opposition coalition. Speaking by phone from Berlin, Hozan Ibrahim said the SNC also should channel more money to youths and revolutionaries engaged in relief work and protests inside Syria.

Ibrahim said the LCC suspended its involvement in SNC meetings last month and will withdraw completely if reforms are not implemented. But, he downplayed the significance of such a move, saying the LCC has a limited interest in politics and could still support the organization from the outside.

The United Nations says more than 9,000 people have been killed in violence related to the anti-government uprising that erupted more than a year ago.