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,
"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