A Syrian rebel bomb attack has reduced the army headquarters
in Damascus to a smouldering wreck as world leaders, unable
to break the diplomatic deadlock in the conflict, met at the
The rebels said the assault on President Bashar al-Assad's
power base in the center of the capital killed dozens of
The army said four guards were killed and 14 wounded in what
it said were suicide attacks. No senior officers were hurt in
the blasts, which shook the whole city just before the start
of the working day, it said.
It was the biggest attack in Damascus since July 18 when a
bombing killed several senior security officials, including
Assad's brother-in-law, the defence minister and a general.
Since then Assad's forces have pushed back rebels to the
outskirts of the capital but have lost control of several
border crossings, struggled to win back the northern city of
Aleppo and mounted air strikes to crush opposition in rebel
State television showed CCTV footage of a white minibus
pulling up by the side of the road and exploding in a ball of
flames. It showed another blast 10 minutes later, apparently
inside the complex.
The explosions struck as world leaders met at the United
Nations, where deadlock over Syria has blocked a united
global response to a conflict which activists say has killed
30,000 people, forced a quarter of a million refugees to flee
the country and left 2.5 million people in need of help.
The uprising, which erupted in March last year as mainly
peaceful protests for reform, has become an armed insurgency
pitting mainly Sunni Muslim rebels against Assad, from the
Alawite faith which is close to Shi'ite Islam.
Shi'ite Iran supports Assad while regional Sunni powers have
backed the rebels.
One Sunni leader, the Emir of Qatar, told the United Nations
that Arab countries should intervene "to stop the bloodshed",
but few Arab states are likely to back his call.
In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin rebutted calls
for an intervention. Any attempt to unilaterally use force or
interfere with events in the Middle East would be
counter-productive, he said.
The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which
monitors the violence through a network of activists in the
country, said 240 people were killed in Syria on Tuesday.
Most were civilians but the death toll included 54 members of
Assad's security forces.
Activists said security forces killed more than 40 people in
a town outside Damascus on Thursday, calling it a massacre.
Video published by activists showed rows of bloodied corpses
wrapped in blankets in the town of Dhiyabia. The victims
appeared to be male, from 20-year-olds to elderly men.
The Syrian Observatory said it could confirm 40 dead.
"A massacre in the Dhiyabia area," says the voice of an
activist in the video. "God damn you Bashar. The bodies are
in the dozens. Look, Muslims, look what this dictator is
FLAMES ENGULF MILITARY BUILDING
Internet footage of Wednesday's fire at the General Staff
Command Building showed flames engulfing its upper floors.
"The attack in Damascus once again proves that, with
sufficient planning and co-ordination, the opposition appears
to retain the ability to strike at the heart of regime," said
David Hartwell, Middle East analyst at IHS Jane's.
"This is despite the fact that the FSA has appeared in recent
weeks to be under pressure as a result of the fighting in
Aleppo and other parts of the country."
The main gate of the military complex was blackened from fire
while windows of the building were blown out. Glass shards
littered streets and a deep crater was gouged in the road.
Residents reported that gunfire rattled out around the
district for at least two hours after the explosions.
"All our colleagues in the military leadership, the army
staff command and the Defence Ministry are unhurt,"
Information Minister Omran Zoabi told Syrian Television.
"It's a terrorist act, close to an important site, that's
true. But as usual they failed to achieve their goal," he
Activist Samir al-Shami said the main explosions were caused
by a suicide car bomb and second car loaded with explosives
on the perimeter of the complex.
"Then the fighters went inside and clashed with security
inside, while some of the men started to torch the building,"
That tallied with accounts from residents who heard gunfire
and smaller blasts after the first explosions.
"The explosions were very loud. They shook the whole city and
the windows of our house were shuddering," one resident
reached by telephone said.
A correspondent for Iran's English-language Press TV was shot
dead by a rebel sniper and its Damascus bureau chief was
wounded while they covered Wednesday's explosions, Press TV
Pro-Assad gunmen also killed at least 16 people in Damascus,
the British-based Observatory said. It said three of those
killed in the poor district of Barzeh, which is sympathetic
to opposition fighters, were children and six were women.
At the annual U.N. General Assembly in New York, French
President Francois Hollande sought to shake up international
inertia over the crisis by calling for U.N. protection of
"The Syrian regime ...has no future among us," Hollande said
in a speech on Tuesday. "Without any delay, I call upon the
United Nations to provide immediately to the Syrian people
all the support it asks of us and to protect liberated
Protection for "liberated" areas would require no-fly zones
enforced by foreign aircraft, which could stop deadly air
raids by Assad's forces on populated areas. But there is
little chance of securing a Security Council mandate for such
action given the opposition of veto-wielding members Russia
The United States, European allies, Turkey and Gulf Arab
states have sided with the Syrian opposition while Iran,
Russia and China have backed Assad, whose family and minority
Alawite sect have dominated Syria for 42 years.
Western powers have stopped short of supplying military aid
to the rebels to an extent that could turn the tide of the
conflict, in part out of fear of arming Islamist militants
who have joined the anti-Assad revolt.