Car bomb in eastern Syrian city kills 9
BEIRUT – A car bomb in the parking lot of a Syrian military compound killed at least nine people Saturday, the latest in increasingly frequent bombings in the country's major cities to target the regime's security services.
President Barack Obama said the members of the Group of Eight industrial nations support the U.N.'s peace plan for Syria, but added that it had not taken hold fast enough.
In Damascus, top United Nations' peacekeeping and military officials met with Syrian officials to try to salvage that peace plan, which has been marred by daily violence and dismissed by the opposition as unrealistic. A cease-fire that was supposed to start last month has never really taken hold, undermining the rest of international envoy Kofi Annan's plan, which is supposed to lead to talks to end the 14-month crisis.
Saturday's suicide bombing struck the eastern city of Deir al-Zour, blowing holes in the walls of nearby buildings and sending up a plume of smoke that stretched across the horizon.
Video broadcast on Syrian state TV showed damaged buildings, smoldering cars and trucks flipped upside down. Debris filled a street that was stained with blood. The station said a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle carrying 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) of explosives and that the blast left a crater five meters (15 feet) wide and more than 2 meters (6 feet) deep.
The state-run news agency SANA said the blast hit the parking lot of a military residential compound, while an opposition group, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reported that the bomb went off close to the city branches of the Military Intelligence Directorate and Air Force Intelligence.
Syria's state news agency posted photos of U.N. observers — some of the about 260 currently in Syria as part of Annan's plan — visiting the blast site.
Attacks like the one in Deir al-Zour, which once served as a transit hub for militants heading to fight U.S. forces in neighboring Iraq, have raised fears that militant Islamists are taking advantage of chaos in Syria to carry out al-Qaida-style attacks.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for Saturday's attack. The government blamed it on "terrorists," who it says are behind the uprising against President Bashar Assad.
A spokesman for the city's rebel military council denied the opposition was behind the attack and blamed the blast on the regime.
"This is not our style because we work to protect civilians and their homes from the bullets and shells of Assad's gangs," Mohammed Attallah said in a video posted online Saturday. "So how could we carry out such a huge criminal act that killed citizens and caused great material damage?"
A group calling itself the Al-Nusra Front has claimed previous attacks through statements posted on militant websites. Little is known about the group, although Western intelligence officials say it could be a front for a branch of al-Qaida militants from Iraq operating in Syria.
The country's last major bombing targeted an intelligence building in Damascus on May 10. It struck during morning rush hour and the high death toll — some 55 people — made it the deadliest attack of the uprising.
Saturday's bombing was the third so far in May. April and March saw two major bombings each, while the three previous months all had one each. Most of the attacks have been near security-related buildings in Aleppo and Damascus, Syria's two largest cities, which have largely stood by Assad throughout the uprising.
The revolt started in March 2011 with mostly peaceful protests calling for political change. As the government cracked down on dissent, many in the opposition took up arms to protect themselves and attack government troops. The U.N. said weeks ago that 9,000 people had been killed. Hundreds more have died since.
Violence has dropped since the U.N. observers began arriving in the country as part of Annan's peace plan, which has been marred by continued daily violence and dismissed by the opposition as unrealistic.
At a meeting outside Washington of the Group of Eight industrial nations, Obama said the G-8 nations support the U.N. plan for Syria, but added that it has not taken hold fast enough.
World powers remain divided on how to end Syria's crisis. The U.S. and other Western and Arab nations have called for Assad to leave power, and the U.S. and European Union have placed increasingly stiff sanctions on Damascus.
But with Russia and China blocking significant new U.N. punishments, U.S. officials are trying to get consensus among other allies about ways to promote Assad's ouster.
"We all believe that a peaceful resolution and political transition in Syria is preferable," Obama said Saturday in Camp David, Maryland.
In Damascus, a senior U.N. delegation that included Babacar Gaye, military adviser to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous was in Damascus on Saturday and was expected to meet with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem.
The chief of the U.N. observers in Syria, Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, and Annan deputy Jean-Marie Guehenno are also to take part in the meeting.
Ladsous told reporters Saturday that he met with some observers and "reminded them of the importance of the mission, which is basically to save lives by confirming the reduction in the level of overall violence."
He added that a drop in bloodshed would help create conditions "that could be conducive to some political processes being started by the initiative of the joint special envoy."
Associated Press writers Anne Gearan and Jim Kuhnhenn contributed reporting from Camp David, Maryland.