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Two explosions targeting a military intelligence facility in Damascus today have left at least 40 dead and at least 170 wounded in what government officials say might have been the largest attack on the capital since the uprising began in March 2011.
Central Damascus is under tight control of government forces, but it has been targeted by several other bombs since December, Associated Press reports. The government has blamed such bombings on Islamist militants using the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad as a cover. An Al Qaeda-inspired group has claimed responsibility for some past attacks and may be behind this one.
What is clear is that the conflict has turned violent on both sides.
Yesterday, United Nations special envoy to Syria Kofi Annan warned the country was on the brink of civil war and that adherence to a cease-fire brokered in April was the only way to step back from the ledge.
AP reports that today's bombings in Damascus were among the deadliest since large-scale attacks began in December and were followed by attacks in Idlib, Aleppo, and other cities. The targeted building is part of a compound housing a "feared section" of Syrian intelligence services, known as the Palestine Branch. The bombs went off as workers were arriving for work.
The opposition Syrian National Council insisted that the Assad regime was behind the bombings, saying it orchestrated them to arouse sympathy for the government, proving that there would be chaos without Assad, and to undermine support for the opposition by portraying them as terrorists, Agence France-Presse reports. "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, a member of the group.
A Syrian activist in Damascus echoed those beliefs in an interview with The Los Angeles Times. “This is the work of the regime,” the man, named Moaz, said. “No one else has the capability for an explosion like this, not the Free Syrian Army [the rebels' armed forces], not anyone. If the Free Syrian Army had this ability it would have freed Syria a long time ago.”
“The message is don’t mess with the regime and all the (UN) monitors don’t matter to me and I will convince the entire world with my point of view that there are terrorists in the country,” Moaz said.
The headline on the statement about the attack on the Syrian Arab News Agency website was "The Reality of Events: Tens of Martyrs and Wounded Civilians in Two Terrorist Explosions in Damascus" (Warning: Graphic photos). Syria's Day Press News reports that Syrian TV said "terrorists" were behind the attacks.
A secretive group called the Al-Nusra Front, likely a group of Salafi jihadists, has claimed responsibility for some of the previous bombings of government targets. The Christian Science Monitor reported last month that there is growing evidence that Syria's uprising has attracted jihadist militants "looking for a new theater of conflict" now that the US has withdrawn from Iraq and NATO operations in Afghanistan are winding down. Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri voiced his support for the Syrian uprising in February, saying Muslims in neighboring countries were compelled to come to the opposition's aid.