DAMASCUS: Suicide bombers hit two security service bases in Damascus on Friday killing more than 30 people and casting a pall over the first day of work of an Arab observer mission intended to oversee an end to nine months of bloodshed.
The bombings, which officials blamed on Al-Qaeda, were the first attacks against Syria’s powerful security services in the heart of the capital since the uprising began and overshadowed new protests against President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.
One bomber tried to ram a vehicle packed with explosives into the compound of the General Security Directorate, Syria’s most important plainclothes security service, in the Kfar Suseh neighborhood of Damascus, witnesses said.
A second blew up a vehicle outside a nearby military intelligence building.
State television showed pictures of a huge crater at one of the bomb sites and pools of blood on surrounding pavements.
Bystanders were seen carrying away charred and mangled bodies wrapped in makeshift shrouds.
"There are more than 30 dead and more than 100 wounded in today’s two attacks," Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Meqdad told reporters at one of the bomb sites.
"On the first day after the arrival of the Arab observers, this is the gift we get from the terrorists and Al-Qaeda but we are going to do all we can to facilitate the Arab League mission," he added.
Meqdad was accompanied to the bomb site by Arab League assistant secretary general Samir Seif Al-Yazal, head of the observer mission’s advance team which flew in on Thursday.
Yazal offered his condolences to the families of the dead. "What has happened is regrettable but the important thing is that everyone stay calm," he told reporters.
"We are going to press on with our work. We have started today, and tomorrow (Saturday) we will meet (Foreign Minister) Walid Muallem."
Yazal heads a nine-strong team which is making the necessary logistical arrangements for the arrival of a first 30 observers on Sunday. The mission will eventually number between 150 and 200.
The mission is part of an Arab plan endorsed by Syria on November 2 that also calls for the withdrawal of the military from towns and residential districts, a halt to violence against civilians and the release of detainees.
The Syrian foreign minister has said he expects the Arab observers to vindicate his government’s contention that the unrest is the work of "armed terrorists," not overwhelmingly peaceful protesters as maintained by Western governments and human rights watchdogs.
State news agency SANA said Thursday that more than 2,000 security force personnel had been killed in attacks by armed rebels.
But opposition leaders have charged that Syria’s agreement to the mission after weeks of prevarication was a mere "ploy" to head off a threat by the Arab League to go to the UN Security Council over a crackdown, which the world body says has left more than 5,000 people dead since March.
There was no let-up in the bloodshed on Friday with human rights activists reporting at least 12 civilians killed by security force fire.
Three people were killed in Daraa province, south of the capital, cradle of the protest movement against President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement received by AFP in Nicosia.
Six more were killed in the flashpoint central city of Homs and three in the eastern oil province of Deir Ezzor, the Britain-based watchdog said.
The Observatory released a grisly video to back its claim that security forces committed a massacre Tuesday in the town of Kafer Awid in Idlib province in the northwest, close to the border with Turkey.
The video zooms in on the faces of at least 49 men, some of them completely disfigured, before panning out to what appear to be rows of corpses.
The opposition Syrian National Council charged on Wednesday that regime forces had killed 250 people in 48 hours in the run-up to the observer advance team’s arrival.
In Berlin, the foreign ministry said it had summoned Syria’s ambassador to demand an immediate halt to the "brutal" repression against demonstrators.