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Syrian rebels are claiming responsibility for a massive explosion today near a hotel in downtown Damascus that United Nations observers have been using, but they say that the bomb was a strike against the Syrian state military, and not the UN.
Abu al-Noor, a spokesperson for the Ahfad Al Rasoul brigade of the Free Syrian Army, told Al Jazeera English in a telephone interview that the bomb targeted a daily meeting of high ranking officials at a military headquarters near the hotel. Through a translator, he said that Syrian state media assertions that the UN hotel was the target were "false and untrue."
Mr. Noor told AJE, "We were targeting a security meeting. It was preplanned. It was timed, the place was already pinpointed. It was at 8 o'clock in the morning. It is the daily morning meeting of the chiefs of staff where all the military operations by the regime are planned and launched. The operation was carried out when 150 high ranking officers were inside the meeting."
Noor also described the details of the attack, and claimed that the FSA had bribed Syrian officials to enable the attack. "Eight explosive canisters were planted inside the armed forces staff headquarters," he said, adding, "We managed to buy out some of the insiders, some of the officers inside the headquarters. We have been planning for this operation for one complete month."
Noor noted that the FSA was unable to determine how many were hurt in the attack due to the state's security lockdown.
The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reports that the explosion was the result of a tanker truck being blown up "behind" the UN observers' hotel, though all UN personnel are "safe." The agency says that three people were injured in the blast, which also caused "minor material damage in the surrounding area."
The BBC has posted a photo gallery of the explosion. While the photos do indicate that a tanker truck was caught in the explosion, they also show thick black smoke pouring out of the windows of a nearby building, giving credence to the FSA's claim that bombs were set off within the military headquarters.
Dutch journalist Sander van Hoorn also Tweeted a photo he took from several blocks away that indicates that the explosion took place at a "military base" across the street from the UN observers' hotel. BBC News notes that their building is in a high security area of central Damascus, and that several government and military buildings are in the vicinity.
The bombing, which is reminiscent in intent of the bomb attack a month ago that killed several members of President Bashar al-Assad's inner circle, comes a day after Syrian Prime Minister turned defector Riyad Farid Hijab said that the Assad regime is near collapse. The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that Mr. Hijab said Assad only controls 30 percent of the country.
"The regime is on the verge of collapse morally, financially and economically in addition to cracks in the military,” Hijab told a news conference televised from the Jordanian capital, Amman.
And today, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation is expected to vote to suspend Syria's membership in the group, which is meeting in Mecca. Reuters writes that while the suspension from the 57-member group is largely symbolic, it "will expose the divisions in the Islamic world over how to respond to civil war in a country that straddles the Middle East's main sectarian fault line. Syria's Sunni majority is at the core of the revolt. Its leadership is dominated by Assad's Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam."