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A pair of suicide bombs exploded today in a downtown Damascus square, killing at least 14 people and injuring scores of others.
These bombings come just days after US news outlets reported that the US could approve military assistance for Syria’s rebels as early as this week. With similar past attacks claimed by Al Qaeda-linked, rebel-allied militant groups, today's bombings highlight the difficulty the international community will face as it tries to handpick which rebel groups will receive arms.
The attack took place in or near a police building on Marjeh Square, according to state media and activist groups. The square, also known as Martyrs Square, has witnessed multiple bombings since the outbreak of violence in 2011, including one just six weeks ago, reports Reuters. State TV showed footage of destroyed storefronts and normally bustling streets filled with glass and debris, reports the BBC.
Syrian state media blamed terrorists, the term they commonly use when referring to antiregime rebels. The Al Qaeda-linked faction Jabhat al-Nusra has claimed responsibility for past suicide attacks and car bombs. For international powers debating the merits of arming rebels, Jabhat al-Nusra is emblematic of a central challenge: how to arm rebels without empowering and arming terrorist groups.
In April, The New York Times examined the increase in the use of car bombs in Syria’s fight, and how Jabhat al-Nusra’s presence created a marked shift in how the battle in Syria was being fought.
In December 2011, when car bombs began hitting government security buildings — and killing civilians nearby — government supporters and opponents alike viewed the explosions as an ominous turn in the conflict.
Until then, the fighting had largely pitted rebels with small arms and roadside bombs against the army and security forces. But suddenly, the Syrian capital was witnessing scenes reminiscent of the Iraqi insurgency. Checkpoints and blast walls went up everywhere.
Some in the opposition said they suspected the government of setting the bombs to tarnish the uprising. But one rebel group, the extremist Nusra Front, began claiming responsibility for many of those attacks. That led to one of the first signs of the split in the armed opposition, between those who said they were defending themselves against a violent government crackdown and a minority who called for an Islamic state. And it repulsed some civilian activists who then distanced themselves from the movement.
Now, the Nusra Front has become a major force on the battlefield, leading other rebel groups in more conventional fights. That poses a quandary for the United States, which supports the opposition but rejects the Nusra Front and accuses it of ties to Al Qaeda.
Some countries, like France, are looking into ways to "safely" arm rebels via weapons technology that could deactivate a weapon from afar if it falls into the wrong hands or include GPS tracking.
The Associate Press reported this week that the US – motivated by recent gains by the Assad regime in reclaiming strategic towns like Qusayr on the Lebanese border and aims to retake Homs, which could cut off rebel access to the south of Syria – could send arms to “vetted, moderate rebel units.” The US has long been hesitant to send weapons into Syria for fear that they could fall into the wrong hands.
Obama already has ruled out any intervention that would require US military boots on the ground. Other options such as deploying American air power to ground the regime's jets, gunships and other aerial assets are now being more seriously debated, the officials said, while cautioning that a no-fly zone or any other action involving US military deployments in Syria were far less likely right now….
Any intervention could have wide-reaching ramifications for the United States and the region. It would bring the US closer to a conflict that has killed almost 80,000 people since Assad cracked down on protesters inspired by the Arab Spring in March 2011 and sparked a war that has since been increasingly defined by sectarian clashes between the Sunni-led rebellion and Assad's Alawite-dominated regime.