|"Syrians inspecting the scene following a powerful car bomb explosion in the centre of Damascus." (SANA/AFP/Getty Images)|
By Richard Spencer and Magdy Samaan
The Telegraph, February 21, 2013
"More than 50 were killed and 200 wounded in a car bombing in the centre of Syria's embattled capital Damascus in one of the worst attacks in the capital since the start of the civil war. Television footage showed body parts and charred corpses lying in the street in Mazraa after the explosion. It struck near the headquarters of the ruling Baath party and the Russian embassy, but opposition activists said most of the victims were civilians, including children. There was also a school nearby. 'There are children among the casualties and injuries as the bomb hit near Ibn Al-Atheer school, and at a time students were leaving school,' an activist who was nearby, Iman Al-Huda, told The Daily Telegraph. The attack, which bore the hallmarks of the jihadist rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra, further highlighted the divide in the opposition. Jabhat al-Nusra has conducted scores of such attacks in Damascus and other cities, but this one brought immediate condemnation from the opposition Syrian National Coalition, which described it as 'heinous'. 'Any acts targeting civilians with murder or human rights violations are criminal acts that must be condemned, regardless of the perpetrator or the justification,' a statement said. With the regime also launching indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas in Aleppo, Deraa and Deir Al-Zour in recent days, both from the air and by surface-to-surface missiles, John Kerry, the new US secretary of state, will also be under fresh pressure to strengthen American policy. He will begin an introductory two-week tour of the Middle East on Sunday with officials at loggerheads. American media report that President Obama has vetoed requests by the State Department, the Pentagon and the CIA to allow non-jihadist rebel groups to be armed, but analysts and arms experts claim that new weaponry is being supplied in any case. Some point to a recent influx of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles from the Balkans, seen regularly on rebel videos, as evidence that somehow the policy on the ground has already changed, and that US allies such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been encouraged to infiltrate arms. The centre of Damascus, which remains solidly in regime hands, is currently under fierce attack from rebel positions in the north, east and south, with one advance reaching within a mile of the historic Old City, one of the oldest continuously occupied settlements on earth. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Thursday's attack, but Jabhat al-Nusra, which America has proscribed as a terrorist group for its alleged ties to al-Qaeda in Iraq, has admitted to at least seven similar bombings this month alone in the city. The Syrian foreign ministry blamed the bombing on 'terrorist' groups linked to al-Qaeda, 'that receive financial and logistic help from abroad'. Figures for the number of dead ranged from 53 to 59. The latter figure would make it the deadliest attack in Damascus since the start of the uprising two years ago. [...]"