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World leaders condemn Syria bombings

The United States and Europe joined international envoy Kofi Annan in strongly condemning the deadly bombings that rocked the Syrian capital of Damascus on Thursday. The twin blasts left at least 55 people dead and 372 wounded.


AFP - Two suicide bombers killed at least 55 people and wounded nearly 400 in the Syrian capital Damascus on Thursday, authorities said, in the deadliest attacks of the country's 14-month uprising.

The government and the opposition traded blame, with Syria's foreign ministry, in a letter to UN chief Ban Ki-moon hours after the attacks, saying they were the work of "terrorists" armed and funded by foreign organisations and media.

The blasts during morning rush hour left an apocalyptic scene of destruction and further put into question a UN-backed ceasefire that has failed to take hold since it went into effect on April 12.

Washington condemned the attacks as "reprehensible" while UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, who brokered the truce, described them as "abhorrent".

Syria's foreign ministry said a twin bombing in the capital Damascus on Thursday was a sign the country is facing foreign-backed terrorism.

It called on the United Nations Security Council to fight countries or groups supporting violence in the 14-month-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.

"Syria stresses the importance of the UNSC taking measures against countries, groups and news agencies that are practicing and encouraging terrorism," the state news agency SANA quoted the ministry as saying in a letter addressed to the Security Council. (REUTERS)

Russia and China, both supporters of President Bashar al-Assad's embattled regime, called for a stop to the violence and urged all parties in Syria to cooperate with Annan's peace plan.

State television aired gruesome footage of the aftermath of the twin explosions in the neighbourhood of Qazzaz, also blaming "terrorists", a term used by authorities to refer to rebels seeking to topple Assad's regime.

The television showed images of a woman's charred hand on a steering wheel, her gold bracelets dangling from her blackened wrist.

Other burnt and mangled bodies lay in the street amid the carcasses of smouldering vehicles and rubble.

"Is that the freedom you want? Students from schools and employees going to work are dead," shouted one man in the middle of the destruction.

The explosions took place on a main freeway in the south of Damascus, in front of a nine-storey security complex whose facade was heavily damaged while nearby residential buildings collapsed.

The interior ministry said the suicide attackers used a tonne of explosives, killing at least 55 people and wounding 372.

It added that emergency workers filled 15 bags with body parts, and that the blasts also destroyed around 200 cars.

"These crimes show that Syria is targeted by a terrorist attack launched by organisations armed and funded by parties who proclaim their backing to terrorist crimes," state news agency SANA quoted the foreign ministry as saying.

It also said 300 soldiers and members of the security forces had been killed since the putative ceasefire technically went into effect.

The opposition Syrian National Council accused Assad's regime of staging the bombings in a bid to undermine the UN observer mission and to impress upon the international community that the regime was battling "terrorists."

"This is the only way for the regime to claim that what is happening in Syria is the work of terrorist gangs and that Al-Qaeda is expanding its presence in Syria," said Samir Nashar, of the exile group's executive branch.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon urged the government and opposition to "distance themselves" from indiscriminate bombings and terrorist acts, according to his spokesman Martin Nesirky.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said the bombings targeted an intelligence base and killed 59 people, including civilians and security personnel.

The attacks came a day after UN observers monitoring the ceasefire escaped unharmed when a roadside bomb exploded as they were visiting the flashpoint southern city of Daraa. Ten Syrian troops escorting them were hurt.

"This is yet another example of the suffering brought upon the people of Syria," said Major General Robert Mood, chief of a UN observer mission, who visited the site of the explosions.

"We, the world community, are here with the Syrian people and I call on everyone within and outside Syria to help stop this violence," he added.

In Geneva, Annan said through his spokesman Ahmad Fawzi that he "condemns in the strongest possible terms the attacks that took place earlier today in Damascus."

"These abhorrent acts are unacceptable and the violence in Syria must stop," he added.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement: "Any and all violence that results in the indiscriminate killing and injury of civilians is reprehensible and cannot be justified."

Damascus has been the target of a number of bombs in the past few months.

Suicide bombers hit two security service bases in the capital on December 23, killing 44 people, in attacks the regime blamed on Al-Qaeda but which the opposition said were the work of the regime itself.

The UN leader had warned on Wednesday of a "brief window" to avoid civil war and indicated the future of the ceasefire monitoring mission was in doubt.

Highlighting an "alarming upsurge" of roadside bombs, alongside government attacks, Ban said in New York that both sides "must realise that we have a brief window to stop the violence, a brief opportunity to create an opening for political engagement between the government and those seeking change."

If the violence did not stop, Ban said he feared "a full-scale civil war with catastrophic effects within Syria and across the region."

Elsewhere in the country on Thursday, at least 14 people died in violence, including a child killed by army shelling in northwestern Idlib province, the Observatory said.

The watchdog says that more than 12,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Syria since the revolt broke out in March last year.

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