More than 20 killed as new Syria blasts mar truce
DAMASCUS—More than 20 people were killed on Monday in blasts targeting security buildings in the city of Idlib in northwest Syria, as an explosion was also reported in the capital, a monitoring group said.
The violence a day after the arrival of the chief of a United Nations monitoring mission was sure to put further strain on a UN-backed ceasefire that went into effect on April 12 but has failed to take hold fully.
Most of those killed in Idlib were members of the security forces, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
State television put the death toll at eight, among them civilians, and said scores of people were also wounded in the two blasts in Idlib’s Hananu Square, on Carlton Street.
The channel said “terrorists” were behind the attacks, a term it uses to refer to rebels seeking to overthrow the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
It showed footage of bloodstains on the ground, and groups of angry people denouncing the violence and expressing support for Assad.
“Is this the freedom they want?” shouted one man, standing near a woman who was carrying a child with blood running down his forehead.
An apartment block appeared to be in ruins and cars nearby were flattened by the force of the explosion.
A powerful blast, probably a car bomb, was also reported near Damascus, the Britain-based Observatory added.
“A strong explosion shook the suburbs of Qudsiya and it appears it was a car bomb,” it said. “Initial reports indicate there are casualties.”
Overnight, a rocket-propelled grenade hit the Central Bank in the capital, state media reported, after a suicide car bombing in the heart of the city on Friday killed 11 people.
Anti-regime activists have accused the government of being behind the series of explosions, while the authorities say “terrorists” are responsible.
“We confirm that these tricks no longer fool anyone, especially given the fact that the regime has resorted to these escalations every time there is political movement at the Arab, regional or international level to find a political solution to the crisis in which the regime kills its people who are demanding freedom,” said a statement by the Local Coordination Committees, a local network of activists.
Veteran peacekeeper Major General Robert Mood urged all sides to abide by the ceasefire as he arrived in Damascus on Sunday to take command of the UN military observer mission overseeing the truce.
The peace plan brokered by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan calls for a commitment to stop all armed violence, a daily two-hour humanitarian ceasefire, media access to all areas affected by the fighting, an inclusive Syrian-led political process, a right to demonstrate and the release of detainees.
“To achieve the success of the Kofi Annan plan, I call on all sides to stop violence and help us continue the cessation of armed violence,” Mood told reporters.
“We will work for the full implementation of the six-point Annan plan, which the Syrian government agreed to.
“To achieve this, we now have 30 monitors on the ground, and in the coming days we will double this figure,” he said, adding that the number would “rapidly” increase to 300.
Mood, a 54-year-old Norwegian who negotiated the conditions for the deployment of the advance team, was head of the UN Truce Supervision Organization, which monitors Middle East truces, from 2009 until 2011.
He stressed the monitors need the cooperation of all parties to achieve their mission: “The observers can’t solve all problems in and of themselves….All sides must stop violence and give the process a chance.”
At least 70 people, among them 47 civilians, were killed nationwide at the weekend, monitors said.
A spokesman for the advance team of observers said they had set up base in major trouble spots, including Idlib, central Homs and Daraa in the south.
With daily bloodshed adding to the death toll since the ceasefire, Red Cross chief Jakob Kellenberger said Annan’s peace plan was “in danger.”
“I place great hope in the six-point plan of Kofi Annan, which includes the UN mission tasked with monitoring the ceasefire,” Kellenberger told Swiss weekly paper Der Sonntag.
“Unfortunately, I am also very aware that the plan is in danger.”
The United Nations estimates that more than 9,000 people have been killed since the revolt against Assad’s regime broke out in March last year.
The uprising started as a popular revolt but has since transformed into an insurgency.