Twin car bombs targeting security posts in Syria’s second city of Aleppo killed at least 28 people on Friday, state media said, as rebels accused the regime of carrying out the attacks as a diversion.
The explosions came as tank-backed troops advanced on pockets of resistance in the battered protest hub of Homs, and heavy security forces deployments nationwide, thwarting planned protests against Russia.
The powerful mid-morning blasts ripped through the northern commercial hub, also wounding 235 people, said state TV, which broadcast gruesome footage of the carnage.
Mangled bodies were shown in pools of blood outside rows of shattered buildings and piles of rubble strewn across a broad avenue. Bulldozers were quickly deployed, revealing deep craters in the ground.
State TV called the bombings, the first in Aleppo since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime erupted almost a year ago, the work of “armed terrorist gangs”.
It said a “suicide bomber in a car packed with explosives” attacked a police station, flattening a nearby food distribution centre. The second bomb targeted an intelligence base.
But the rebel Free Syrian Army said the government itself was behind the attacks, hoping to divert attention from its military operations against civilians in the besieged protest hub of Homs.
“This criminal regime is … carrying out bomb attacks in Aleppo to steer attention away from what it is doing in Homs, Zabadani and elsewhere,” its spokesperson, Colonel Maher Nouaimi, said in a telephone interview.
‘Bags full of body parts’
State TV showed emergency workers holding up body parts, including hands, feet and a torso. Soldiers were among the casualties, it said.
“The number of casualties from the two car bombs in Aleppo has risen to 28 dead and 235 wounded,” said the health ministry, adding that among the dead were soldiers and civilians, including children.
“In addition, there were four bags full of body parts of other victims,” it said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 30 people were killed in the Aleppo blasts.
Several people interviewed on TV denounced Turkey and Qatar for not standing by the regime as it seeks to put down the revolt.
“Is this the freedom they want?” asked one angry-looking man, holding up a severed arm and referring to those leading the protest movement.
Aleppo has been largely spared the unrest that has rocked the country and killed more than 6 000 people, say rights groups.
In central Syria, tanks stormed a district in the flashpoint city of Homs as troops launched a house-to-house sweep to crush regime opponents, the Observatory’s Rami Abdel Rahman said.
“The tanks entered the neighbourhood of Inshaat overnight,” he said.
Inshaat is next to the protest hub of Baba Amr, which has been subjected to a withering assault by regime forces since Saturday that has killed more than 400 people, activists say.
Forty-two people were killed across Syria on Friday, including security force members, said the Observatory. At least 20 died in Homs, among them two children killed by shelling in Baba Amr.
Security forces, meanwhile, deployed heavily outside mosques nationwide, firing on worshippers in some areas to prevent protests denouncing Russia’s steadfast support for the Assad regime, activists said.
“Demonstrations broke out in various parts of the country, but they were small in numbers because of the heavy deployment of army and security forces as well as the cold weather,” said Abdel Rahman.
“In some areas the number of intelligence agents was so high that they outnumbered worshippers. A lot of people held smaller demos in side streets.”
Internet-based activists had urged protests under the banner of Russia is Killing our Children.
But Moscow said Syria’s opposition “bears full responsibility” for the ongoing violence, while accusing the West of pushing regime opponents into armed conflict.
Russia has insisted that any solution to end the bloodshed must come from within Syria.
The EU Council’s president, Herman Van Rompuy, accused Syria of committing “outrageous and unacceptable atrocities against its people”.
Saudi King Abdullah said world confidence in the United Nations had been “shaken” after Russia and China vetoed a resolution condemning the Assad regime’s crackdown on dissent.
US President Barack Obama on Thursday decried the violence as “outrageous bloodshed” and urged “a transition from the current government that has been assaulting its people.”
In Geneva, the UN rights office said Syrian officials responsible for carrying out or ordering crimes against humanity should face prosecution by the International Criminal Court.
Despite mounting calls for military aid to outgunned and outnumbered rebels in Syria, Arab and Western governments have so far resisted such a possibility.
Among initiatives being considered by nations eager to end the bloodshed is a joint Arab League-UN mission to Syria, the prospects for which could hinge on a weekend meeting of the Arab bloc, and the backing of major powers.
The opposition Syrian National Council said, meanwhile, that it expects to be recognised by several Arab states within days. So far only post-revolt Libya has recognise the umbrella group as its sole Syrian interlocutor. — AFP