By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times –
BEIRUT — A car bomb explosion killed at least two people and injured 30 in the northern city of Aleppo, Syrian authorities said Sunday, raising fears of a new wave of deadly attacks as the rebellion against President Bashar Assad enters its second year.
The explosion in Aleppo, the nation’s business hub, came a day after two car bombs detonated in the capital, Damascus, officials said, reportedly killing 27 people and injuring almost 100.
Both Damascus and Aleppo are considered strongholds of support for Assad and, apart from car bomb attacks, have been largely spared the fighting seen in other areas.
The government blamed all three blasts on “terrorists,” its habitual characterization of forces seeking to oust Assad.
Opposition figures have denied any involvement and said the latest car bombings, like an earlier wave of such attacks, were government-orchestrated acts meant to discredit the uprising.
U.S. intelligence officials have said that Islamic militants, possibly associated with al-Qaida, may have been responsible for the earlier car bomb attacks in Damascus and Aleppo.
Some news accounts indicated that police in Aleppo had been alerted before Sunday’s explosion, allowing time to evacuate residents and minimize casualties. The booby-trapped car exploded while authorities were moving it, the official Syrian Arab News Agency reported.
The news agency reported that “huge crowds” participated in a march and Requiem Mass denouncing the attacks and honoring those killed in Saturday’s car bombings. One of Saturday’s explosions occurred in the Qasaa neighborhood, home to many Christians.
Sunday’s bombing in Aleppo occurred in the city’s Sulemaniyeh neighborhood, also home to many Christians. The official news agency said the bomb went off near the “Latin Church.” It was not clear whether Sunday services were going on at the time.
News agencies have reported that all three weekend bombs were detonated near security posts, the presumed targets.
Christians, like other Syrian minorities, have generally been viewed as supportive of Assad, a member of the Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. Many minorities fear an Islamist takeover should armed rebels, mostly from the nation’s Sunni Muslim majority, manage to overthrow Assad.
Some observers say that Syria’s uprising is taking on an increasingly sectarian identity, pitting the Sunni Muslims against Assad’s Alawite sect, who are prominent in security services. But there have been no confirmed reports of Christians being targeted in a systematic way, as occurred in Iraq, where churches were bombed.
Also, “an armed terrorist group” reportedly shot 13 civilians to death in the village of Hasiba in Homs province. A railway bridge connecting Damascus with the southern city of Dara was blown up, the state news agency said.
The Local Coordination Committees, an opposition network, reported that at least 25 people were killed by security forces nationwide, including nine in Idlib province in the northwest and four each in Homs and suburban Damascus. Authorities cracked down on protests marking the one-year anniversary of the uprising, opposition activists said.
The death tolls could not be independently verified as access to Syria is limited.
The yearlong Syrian rebellion has cost at least 10,000 lives, including 8,000 civilians and rebels and 2,000 security personnel, according to government and United Nations figures.