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Syria's state-run news agency reports that suicide attackers detonated two car bombs outside government buildings in Damascus Friday, capping off one of the deadliest weeks since Syria's uprising began in March. More than 160 people were killed this week as the government cracked down on what appeared to be attempts to create a rebel stronghold in the northwest.
The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reports that the attack "bears the blueprints of Al Qaeda" (warning: graphic images). Throughout the uprising, the government has blamed much of the violence on "armed terrorists."
The Washington Post reports at least 30 dead and more than 100 wounded from today's bombings, but notes that because the Syrian government still bars foreign journalists from the country and controls media within the country, there is no way to verify government accounts or state media reports. An opposition leader and a regional analyst both expressed doubt about the bombings, telling the Post that there was "little direct evidence of a serious bombing, and that attacks by Al Qaeda and other groups are virtually unheard of in Syria."
“Syria doesn’t really have a record of this,” he said. “The security forces have not lost control of the situation to such an extent that this would seem likely.”
Shaikh also said it seemed suspicious that the media reported the attack so quickly, while pictures showed the car bombs already cleared away. “I am deeply skeptical,” he said.
Mr. Shaikh said the explosions could actually help the regime by stirring up fears of instability among Syrians.
The bombings targeted state security headquarters and a second security installation, hours before planned demonstrations against an Arab League plan to bring an end to the ongoing violence, The New York Times reports. Members of the opposition speculate that this week's elevated crackdown is intended to cow the resistance into submission before Arab League observers arrive in the country in large numbers.
An advance team of Arab League officials has already arrived in Damascus to set up a framework for the hundreds of observers coming to Syria in upcoming weeks, Al Jazeera reports. Between 30 and 50 are expected to arrive Saturday in the first phase of the mission. The Syrian government is responsible for their protection.
The opposition remains skeptical of the plan, but if observers are able to operate as intended, it might create an opening for protesters without the threat of a brutal government response.
However, in an Al Jazeera report from earlier this week, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem is quoted as saying that the government expects the observer mission to "vindicate" its assertions that the uprising is driven by armed terrorists. "There are many countries in the world who don't wish to admit the presence of terrorist armed groups in Syria." he said. "They will come and see that they are present.... We must not be afraid at all."
Al Jazeera reports that Syrian officials say they have already released more than 1,000 prisoners and pulled the Army out of several cities. The observers are there partially to ensuring continuing compliance with promises to further withdraw Army troops and to release more prisoners, according to The New York Times.