54 dead in car bomb blasts
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) – A massive double car bombing and a mortar strike targeted pro-government neighbourhoods today in two of Syria’s largest cities, killing at least 54 people a day after President Bashar Assad declared his candidacy for re-election.
The attacks in Damascus and Homs heightened fears of an escalation ahead of the contentious June 3 vote and showed that despite a series of battlefield setbacks, the rebels remain capable of hitting the government and its core of support.
Now in its fourth year, Syria’s conflict has left the country a chaotic tableau of localised battles whose front lines shift back and forth, but have little impact on the wider war.
The map of control has remained largely unaltered: Assad holds sway in Damascus and the corridor that runs up to the Mediterranean coast, while the rebels control most of the north along the Turkish border and the Kurdish minority controls a corner in the northeast.
But the rebels are feeling squeezed in the capital, Damascus, and in Homs, Syria’s third-largest city and an opposition stronghold since the beginning of the uprising against Assad. The government has taken a two-pronged approach to crushing resistance in both areas: suffocating blockades that eventually force cease-fires and a fierce offensive along the Lebanese frontier that has severely restricted the flow of weapons and fighters along cross-border supply lines.
In Homs, the rebels are growing desperate as government forces ramp up their assault on the last remaining pockets of opposition in the Old City. Among the hundreds of fighters still holding out in besieged districts, some talk of surrender while others have lashed out at the government with suicide car bombings in pro-Assad districts.
Today’s double car bombing struck near the pro-government Zahra and Abbasiyeh neighbourhoods – an area predominantly inhabited by Christians and members of Assad’s Alawite sect.
At least 40 people were killed and another 116 wounded, the official SANA news agency said. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also put the death toll at 40 and said more than 80 were wounded.
The explosions struck ten minutes apart and 150 yards from each other on a busy residential and commercial thoroughfare.