Twin blasts strike Damascus army headquarters
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Twin blasts struck Syrian army headquarters in central Damascus early on Wednesday, state TV reported, killing four and wounding 14 others. The Free Syrian Army, which is the main rebel force fighting Bashar al-Assad, claimed responsibility.
The Free Syrian Army, the main rebel force fighting President Bashar al-Assad, claimed responsibility for the attack, which sparked a fire in the capital’s administrative district at Umayyad Square, gutting the army headquarters.
A Syrian activist who witnessed the incidents said that at least one blast was caused by a car bomb. “A car bomb exploded outside the building of the army headquarters in Umayyad Square. Then there was a second bomb behind the building, in the Abu Rummaneh neighborhood,” he told FRANCE 24. He said the Syrian army had cordoned off the area and that ambulances were heading to the scene.
Reports of gunfire
Other witnesses said the explosions were followed by heavy gunfire, suggesting clashes between rebels and government forces had broken out in the area.
Iran's Press TV said one of its correspondents was killed in an exchange of gunfire following twin blasts in Damascus on Wednesday morning.
The channel identified the reporter as 33-year-old Maya Nasser, a Syrian national.
Press TV also said that its Damascus bureau chief, Hussein Mortada, was injured in the Syrian capital.
The rebel Free Syrian Army claimed responsibility for the blasts in a statement, saying that “dozens were killed” in the explosions and contradicting government claims that there were no casualties. "The Free Army hit the General Staff building in Damascus' Umayyad Square and dozens were killed in the two powerful blasts," the rebel’s military council wing said.
Information Minister Omran Zoabi had earlier told state television that one of the blasts was caused by an improvised explosive device that may have been planted inside the grounds of the military complex. He said there were no casualties.
“I can confirm that all our comrades in the military command and defence ministry are fine,'' he told al-Ikhbariya in a telephone call.
The explosions come amid new reports that pro-government militias executed at least 16 civilians in a Damascus neighbourhood before dawn on Wednesday. "Militiamen burst into their homes in the Barzeh neighbourhood at 5am (2am GMT) and shot them dead," Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AFP.
The latest unrest follows a day after rebels detonated bombs at a Damascus building housing pro-government militias.
Damascus and Aleppo key
Damascus and the commercial capital of Aleppo have emerged in recent months as the key battlegrounds in what has effectively devolved into a civil war between Assad forces and rebel fighters. The outgunned rebels are relying increasingly on homemade bombs and improvised weapons against regime forces that are able to marshal fighter jets, tanks and other heavy artillery.
In his first briefing to the UN Security Council since he took over from Kofi Annan on Sept. 1 as the joint UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi delivered a gloomy report Monday on a looming food crisis, battle-damaged schools and shuttered factories, despite noting "some signs'' that the divided Syrian opposition may be moving toward unity -- a prerequisite for any future political negotiations that Brahimi would oversee.
"I think there is no disagreement anywhere that the situation in Syria is extremely bad and getting worse, that it is a threat to the region and a threat to peace and security in the world," Brahimi told reporters after a round of closed-door talks at the United Nations.
Activists say more than 27,000 people have been killed in the 18-month-old uprising against Assad. A report by British charity Save the Children released on Tuesday documented cases of torture and execution targeting the children of known Syrian dissidents.
Calls for action at the UN
At the start of the annual UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday, President Barack Obama repeated US calls for an end to the Assad regime. "As we meet here, we again declare that the regime of Bashar al-Assad must come to an end so that the suffering of the Syrian people can stop and a new dawn can begin," he said.
French President François Hollande also said there was “no future” for the Assad regime and reiterated France’s intention to recognise a post-conflict “provisional government representing the new, free Syria”. Hollande demanded that the UN set up safe havens in rebel areas to help end the bloodshed and put a stop to rights abuses.
The emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, urged Arab states to launch their own initiative to halt the violence. "It is better for Arab countries themselves to intervene out of their humanitarian, political and military duties and do what is necessary to stop the bloodshed," Sheikh Hamad told the General Assembly.
The United States, European nations, Egypt, Turkey and the Gulf states have consistently sided with the Syrian opposition in months of UN negotiations while Iran, Russia and China continue to back Assad, whose family and minority Alawite sect have ruled the Syrian state for 42 years.
Alawites account for 12 percent of the Syrian population, of which 74 percent is Sunni Muslim. Sunnis also make up the majority of the opposition forces looking to oust the Assad regime.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)