Thousands attend funerals for Syrian bomb victims
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Last Updated: Saturday, December 24, 2011, 20:19
Damascus: Thousands of mourners carrying Syrian flags and pictures of the dead took part in a mass funeral on Saturday for 44 people killed in twin suicide bombings that targeted intelligence agency compounds in Damascus.

The government of President Bashar Assad said a preliminary investigation pointed to al Qaeda and that the bloodshed and destruction in the capital bolstered its argument that terrorists, rather than true reform-seekers, were behind the anti-government revolt.

The opposition, meanwhile, grew fearful that the regime was taking advantage of the distraction caused by the bombings to move in military reinforcements and prepare for a massive assault on key activist areas in central Syria. Shelling in the city of Homs on today killed at least three people in the Baba Amr district and set several homes and shops ablaze, activists said.

"We believe this is in preparation for a large-scale attack," said Bassam Ishak, secretary-general of the Syrian National Council opposition group.

In Damascus, mourners carried coffins draped in the red, white and black Syrian flags into the eighth-century Omayyad Mosque, where they were placed on the ground for prayers. "Martyr after martyr, we want nobody but Assad," they shouted in support of the embattled Syrian President.

The government linked yesterday's bombings to the uprising against Assad's autocratic rule. They were the first suicide bombings since the unrest began in mid-March, adding new and ominous dimensions to a conflict that has already brought the country to the brink of civil war.

Striking just moments apart, the attackers used powerful car bombs to target the heavily guarded compounds. The explosions shook the capital, which has been relatively untouched by the uprising, and left mutilated and torn bodies amid rubble, twisted debris and burned cars.

Besides the dead, 166 people were wounded. The opposition has questioned the government's account and hinted the regime itself could have been behind the attacks, noting they came a day after the arrival of an advance team of Arab League observers investigating Assad's bloody crackdown of the popular revolt.

Ishak said he feared the bombings "were orchestrated to distract attention from a massive assault today in Homs."

He said his group reported the information they got from Homs to the Arab League and urged the monitors to head to Homs.

"The regime is keeping them in their hotels and delaying their departure for Homs," he told a news agency on the phone from Amman, Jordan.

The government has long contended that the turmoil in Syria this year is not an uprising by reform-seekers but the work of terrorists and foreign-backed armed gangs.

Sheik Said al-Bouti, a prominent pro-Assad clergyman in Damascus, blamed the opposition squarely for the attacks.


First Published: Saturday, December 24, 2011, 20:19

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