Entries in Damascus (28)


Senior Cleric Killed in Damascus Suicide Bombing

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(DAMASCUS, Syria) -- A deadly suicide bombing inside a Damascus mosque on Thursday killed senior cleric Mohammad Said Ramadan al-Bouti, one of the most notable Sunni supporters of the current regime.

According to the New York Times, at least 42 people were killed in the attack and at least 84 were injured. Mohammad Said Ramadan al-Bouti was the imam of the largest Sunni mosque in Syria, and was a support for President Bashar al-Assad -- especially early in the conflict -- despite the fact the insurgency drew its numbers heavily from the Sunni population.

Initial reports indicated that the attack was a suicide bombing, but the circumstances surrounding the explosion are still unclear.

The bombing came on the heels of the announcement by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon that the governing body would be investigating the possible use of chemical weapons during the Syrian conflict.

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Dozens Killed, Scores Injured in Syrian Capital Bomb Attack

LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images(DAMASCUS, Syria) -- What was believed to be an enormous car bomb explosion on Thursday left dozens dead and more than 235 people wounded in Syria's capital of Damascus.

Most of those killed, according to Syria's official news agency, were civilians, including women and children.  As of late Thursday, the death toll has climbed to 53 and was expected to go higher.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack, which occurred near the office of the ruling Baath Party and not far from the Russian embassy.

Suspicion fell on rebel forces that have ratcheted up their assaults in Damascus as their two-year objective to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad has only been met with an escalation of violence.

Some blamed the Free Syrian Army for the blast at a checkpoint but the group issued a swift denial.  Later, Syria's foreign ministry accused armed groups affiliated with al-Qaeda of plotting the attack.

Last May, an explosion targeting a military intelligence complex in Damascus left 55 dead and over 300 wounded.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Twin Blasts Rock Damascus Suburb, At Least 34 Dead

Archival photo. LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images(DAMASCUS, Syria) -- Two suicide bombers detonated vehicles packed with explosives in a Damascus suburb Wednesday, killing at least 34 people in a neighborhood of religious communities largely supporting the Syrian government.

State media accused “terrorists” of the blasts in Jaramana, which is predominantly populated by Christians and Druses, followers of an Islamic offshoot.  The vehicles exploded near commercial buildings during morning rush hour, in an apparent attempt to maximize casualties.

There was no immediate responsibility taken for the bombings.

The attacks illustrate a growing concern that Islamic militants are driving the Syrian opposition, attacking religious minorities and civilians that side with President Bashar Assad.

Syria’s minority groups have thus far been hesitant to side with the Syrian rebels, after living for decades under secular rule.  The country is predominantly Sunni Muslim; Bashar Assad is Alawite.

The dual bombings came just a day after the opposition claimed to have brought down Syrian aircraft.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Rebels, Militants Take Credit for Attack on Syrian Military Headquarters

LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images(DAMASCUS, Syria) -- Two groups are each taking credit for Wednesday's suicide car bomb attack against the Syrian military headquarters in Damascus that left four guards dead and more than a dozen others wounded.

The Free Syrian Army, the main rebel group battling government forces, as well as the militant organization Ansar al-Islam claimed responsibility for the strike that is considered significant because it occurred at the staff command compound.

Witnesses said that a minibus carrying explosives detonated after it crashed into the building, literally shaking the area around it.

According to Syrian State TV, rebel forces and military guards engaged in a gun battle following the blast.

The attack came just a day after several bombs blew up inside a Damascus school that rebels claimed had been taken over by the military to be used as a security headquarters.

Wednesday’s attack occurred on the deadliest day thus far of the 19-month conflict, with 343 fatalities reported.  It’s estimated that 30,000 people have died because of the violence since March 2011 but there is no way to verify an exact figure.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Damascus Fighting Rages Following Attack on Assad Officials

File photo. AFP/Getty Images(DAMASCUS, Syria) -- On Thursday, opposition fighters clashed with regime forces in the Syrian capital of Damascus for the fifth straight day.

Activists reported the continued use of tanks and helicopters in neighborhoods in and around the capital, including one close to the presidential palace.

The continued fighting followed a stunning bomb attack on Wednesday on President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle that left at least three top aides dead.

The violence has been the worst seen in Damascus since the uprising began 17 months ago.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Thursday that residents were fleeing the upscale neighborhood of Mezzeh near the presidential palace amid clashes, and helicopters were hovering over numerous parts of the city.

“It’s very dangerous,” Fares Mohamad, a spokesman for the opposition's Local Coordination Committees, told ABC News. “They’re shelling with tanks, helicopters [and] a lot of heavy weapons.”

Assad has not been seen or heard from since an explosion went off in the national security building on Wednesday, killing at least three top officials. State media reported the deaths of Defense Minister Dawood Rajiah, Deputy Defense Minister Asef Shawkat, and Assistant Vice President Hassan Turkmani.

The death of Shawkat, Assad’s brother-in-law and one of his closest confidantes, was a particularly painful blow for the regime. It highlighted the opposition’s ability to infiltrate Assad’s inner circle and perhaps get to the president himself.

The opposition Syrian National Council denied initial reports the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber. SNC member Ausama Monajed told ABC News the explosives were planted and remotely detonated, a plan that had been in works for two months. But 24 hours after the brazen attack, details were still unclear.

In the wake of the bombing, opponents of Assad on Wednesday piled on, saying the bomb attack was proof of Assad losing control.

“It is precisely because of the ongoing campaign by President Assad against his own people that we are seeing a situation that is getting worse and worse,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters. “That is why it is so important for the international community to come together around a plan that produces the transition -- the political transition -- that is essential if Syria is to have a brighter future.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Syrian President Stays Out of Sight After Damascus Bombing

Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images(DAMASCUS, Syria) -- Why hasn't Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made any public statement yet about Wednesday's bomb attack at the national security office in Damascus that killed at least three senior officials?

Speculation is rife that al-Assad might have also been at the meeting when an explosion killed Defense Minister Dawoud Rajha, Deputy Defense Minister Assef Shawkat, who is al-Assad's brother-in-law, and a top aide.

As of now, the whereabouts of al-Assad and his family are unknown and rumors are rampant that perhaps the president and his kin might have been wounded in the same bombing.

A Syrian opposition activist has alleged that the presidential jet was seen taking off from Damascus following the blast and might have been headed for the Mediterranean port city of Latakia.

However, Syrian state media is trying to fight back against the rumors, stating that al-Assad appointed General Fahd Jassem Freij as Syria's new defense minister and deputy commander-in-chief of the army.

Meanwhile, even if al-Assad was unharmed, a senior White House official says the Syrian president must have been deeply shaken that the Free Syrian Army was able to assassinate his brother-in-law, considered "one of the most powerful hard-line officials in the country."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Obama, Putin React to Damascus Bombing

Pete Souza/The White House(WASHINGTON) -- The White House announced Wednesday that President Obama spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the earlier explosion in Damascus that killed Syria's defense minister and two other government officials, including the brother-in-law of President Bashar al-Assad.

At his daily press briefing, administration spokesman Jay Carney said the two leaders "agreed on the need to support a political transition as soon as possible that achieves our shared goal of ending the violence and avoiding a further deterioration of the situation."

Washington and Moscow have been at loggerheads over how to handle the conflict in Syria now in its 17th month with as many as 17,000 people having died in the fighting between al-Assad's forces and rebels intent on removing him from power.

Carney said that Obama and Putin would be working harder toward finding a solution even as the situation in Syria is "spinning out of control."

The press secretary said it's Obama's opinion that Wednesday's bombing proved that there will be no let-up in violence until a political transition has taken place, a point the U.S. is trying to get Moscow and Beijing to accept.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Israeli Intelligence Chief Says Syrian Capital Could Fall to Rebels

Alessio Romenzi/AFP/Getty Images(JERUSALEM) -- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may not be able to hold onto Damascus much longer, Israel’s spy chief said on Tuesday.

Things are getting so desperate for al-Assad, Major General Aviv Kochavi told an Israeli parliamentary committee, that he's been forced to remove soldiers from the Golan Heights region to shore up military defenses in the capital.

But despite an even more brutal crackdown on rebels by government forces, Kochavi claimed Syria's "control of Damascus is getting weaker."

While reports from the Syria's news media seem to be downplaying the scene in Damascus, opposition activists contend that most of the fighting has been taking place in the southern part of the city.

The activists maintain it wasn't their initial intention to take over Damascus but as fighting intensifies, they are willing to make al-Assad's forces struggle to keep order in the streets.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Syrian Settlement Hopes Fade as Fighting Escalates

Vedat Xhymshiti/AFP/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Obeida Nahas works from a decent-sized desk in a colorless office. Hidden within the maze of an industrial complex, a short train-ride from central London, it’s a far cry from the bloody guerrilla battlefields that he concerns himself with each day.

Nahas is a founding member of the Syria National Council, and director of the Levant Institute, a UK-based Syrian think-tank, and he fears that any chance of a peaceful settlement in Syria is being battered by the rapid escalation of violence.

“The diplomatic path is fading away. For me, as a politician there is not much left to say. The SNC is considering providing more support for people on the ground, to try change the balance. We are turning to military options,” he told ABC News.

A pacifist, Nahas said he had some trouble adjusting to the shift he described as currently happening within the Syrian opposition movement.

“The only exit that the opposition is offering the regime is to allow (Syrian president) Bashar al-Assad and his generals to run for their lives. No Yemeni-style agreement, not even an Egyptian-style agreement,” he said.

Fighting has reached the streets of Damascus this week and activists are calling fighting in the Syrian capital a “turning point.”

And Turkish officials have reported that several high level defectors, including a Syrian general and “several other officers” crossed the Turkish border in the past week.

“I think momentum is with the opposition,” John Chalcraft, a Middle East expert and Reader at the London School of Economics, told ABC News. “The defections are extremely important.”

“But I’m not optimistic about the diplomatic side,” said Chalcraft, including diplomatic efforts by the U.S., Russia, U.N. envoy Kofi Annan and the Arab League in his evaluation.

The Syria National Council, the opposition’s largest umbrella-group, operates mostly from outside the country, but comprises prominent Syria-based networks like the Local Coordination Committees, and Nahas said it’s working in tandem with the Free Syrian Army.

“About 39 percent of our current members come from inside Syria. The military wing, the Free Syrian Army, was the result of defections seeking the support of the opposition. And they got (that support,)” he said.

“Given the massacres we have seen, we can’t blame people for trying to defend themselves,” Nahas added.

Others appear to have lost patience with the diplomacy of the SNC.

“The people feel that the political groups such as the SNC and others have betrayed them, and the Free Syrian Army are basically the only ‘bright light’ of this revolution,” Abdullah Aldahhan, a U.S.-based medical student who worked with Doctors Without Borders in Syria last month, and whose parents come from Syria told ABC News.

Asked to compare opposition networks outside of Syria to those within, Aldahhan said, “The movement on the inside (of the country) was one that was organized, dedicated, and more accomplished. And for the regime to fall…it would be because of the efforts of the movement on the inside.”

Aldahhan’s view is echoed by academics like Chalcraft, who view the series of meetings held by the international community, like the one today between Arab League and U.N. Special Envoy Kofi Annan and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, as inconsequential to the outcome of the conflict, in comparison to the uprising on the ground.

Despite escalating violence on both sides, humanitarian organizations like Amnesty International maintain that the fight is not yet an equal one.

“At this stage the armed opposition is still limited in terms of weapons,” an undercover Amnesty Syria researcher, who asked to remain anonymous, told ABC News.

“But with an unclear structure and undefined chain of command among the opposition militia, human rights violations are now increasingly taking place on both sides.”

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Al Qaeda Fingered in Syrian Capital Bombings

LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/GettyImages(DAMASCUS, Syria) -- Syria is pointing the finger at al Qaeda for causing the twin explosions in Damascus Thursday that left at least 55 people dead and more than 400 wounded.

It was the deadliest attack in the capital since President Bashar al-Assad instituted a crackdown on anti-government forces 14 months ago.

Witnesses said that two powerful car bombs apparently targeting the Syrian military intelligence building were detonated as people arrived at work.  The explosions were so destructive that dozens of cars were set on fire for blocks around.

At the United Nations, the Security Council issued a statement that "condemned in the strongest terms the terrorist attacks that occurred in Damascus, Syria, on May 10, causing numerous deaths and injuries."

The Council's 15 member nations also called on the Syrian government and rebels to immediately adhere to the six-point ceasefire plan crafted by special emissary Kofi Annan, which has done little to do stop the violence over the past month that has resulted in well over 9,000 deaths since March 2011.

Meanwhile, Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Jaafari blamed al Qaeda for masterminding the bombings in Damascus and providing support to "terrorist groups" in his country.

At the White House, press secretary Jay Carney told reporters, "Attacks like these that result in the indiscriminate killing and injury of civilians are reprehensible and cannot be justified.  They also remind us of the urgent necessity of achieving a political solution before it is too late."

Carney also said the twin bombings were not perpetrated by rebel forces seeking al-Assad's removal from office.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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