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Twin blasts kill 27 in Syria’s capital, Damascus

By David Enders and Hannah Allam, McClatchy Newspapers –

AMMAN, Jordan — After weeks of punishing defeats in rebellious Syrian cities, anti-government insurgents struck at the heart of President Bashar Assad’s regime Saturday with twin bombings in the capital that killed 27 and wounded more than 100.

The Syrian state news agency, SANA, carried a statement from the Syrian interior ministry saying that “booby-trapped” cars driven by suicide bombers were behind the coordinated attacks in Damascus, which struck five minutes apart just after 7 a.m. The ministry said investigators had collected evidence, remains and “remnants of explosives materials” that were sent to labs for testing.

The blasts targeted security and intelligence posts just two days after thousands of pro-Assad demonstrators rallied in the capital on the first anniversary of the uprising.

The deadly attacks were a reminder that, even if Assad manages to rout rebels from flashpoint cities, he still faces the prospect of a bloody, drawn-out guerrilla campaign designed to wear down his isolated regime. Members of the loose grouping of rebel forces known as the Free Syrian Army denied responsibility for the bombings — which seemed to suggest, as some U.S. officials have warned, that outside forces would try to exploit the chaos in Syria, which has divided the Middle East along sectarian lines.

Saturday’s blasts followed similar bombings in recent months in Damascus and the commercial capital, Aleppo, that U.S. intelligence officials — along with Assad’s regime — have blamed on al Qaida-inspired insurgents who’ve slipped into the country from neighboring Iraq. With a blanket ban on independent reporting in Syria, it’s impossible to verify the makeup of the rebel forces, or what fraction comprises alleged jihadists. Anti-government activists blame the Syrian government itself.

The interior ministry, according to SANA, claimed that the attacks were in line with the recent “escalation by regional and international parties” and linked it to the renewed calls for foreign military intervention to resolve the crisis. The Sunni Muslim regimes in Saudi Arabia and Qatar have called for arming the rebels fighting Assad’s government, which is led by Alawites, a branch of Shiite Islam.

In its statement, the ministry promised a strong response to the attacks, saying it “will not be tolerant while dealing firmly with all those who attempt to strike Syria’s security, stability and unity, and terrorize its citizens.”

SANA’s report was accompanied by a montage of grisly photos of the bombings’ aftermath. The front of one targeted building appeared to have been sheared off, while the grounds were shown littered with human body parts and twisted metal debris from vehicles.

In one photo, a man appears to be holding a scalp; in another, the toes of a severed foot are visible. Other images were of responders packing charred human remains into body bags.

“The explosion was quite loud. I believe that all of Damascus heard it. It was a really, really big blast,” said Mar, an anti-government activist.

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