Over 100 killed as bombs tear through Damascus, Homs

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, residents gather at the scene where two blasts exploded in the pro-government neighborhood of Zahraa, in Homs province, Syria, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2016. (SANA via AP)

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, residents gather at the scene where two blasts exploded in the pro-government neighborhood of Zahraa, in Homs province, Syria, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2016. (SANA via AP)

Islamic State claims string of bombings that kill at least 119 while international community struggles to sew together ceasefire

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75 rebels killed in Damascus battles

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Syrian volunteers try to evacuate eight-year-old Mahmud Fayad still trapped under the rubble of a destroyed house after a barrel bomb was dropped from an air force helicopter in Saraqeb in northwestern Syria on July 20, 2013.


Beirut – Syrian government troops killed at least 75 rebels over 24 hours in battles for control of the capital Damascus, activists said on Monday, one of the deadliest single-day tolls for opposition fighters in the 2-year-old conflict.

The death toll, reported by the Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights, included 49 rebels killed in an ambush in Damascus’ northeastern suburb of Adra early on Sunday. The group said an elite Republican Guard unit attacked the rebels as they were trying to push into the capital, and that the government commander leading the operation also died in the ensuing gunbattle.

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Explosion rocks Damascus killing some 30 civilians

Blast hits near office of Assad’s ruling Baath Party, killing civilians, security forces; DFLP head lightly injured in car bomb.

Blast hits central Damascus near offices of ruling Baath Party, February 21, 2013.

Blast hits central Damascus near offices of ruling Baath Party, February 21, 2013. Photo: REUTERS/Sana

BEIRUT/CAIRO – At least 31 people were killed by a car bomb which struck the central Damascus district of Mazraa on Thursday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

It said most of those killed in the blast near an office of President Bashar Assad’s ruling Baath Party were civilians, though the death toll included security forces.

Other activists said 40 people were killed, including children, and 70 people were wounded.

Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported that the head of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine was lightly injured on Thursday in a car bomb.

The opposition Syrian National Coalition said on Thursday that it is willing to negotiate a peace deal under US and Russian auspices to end the country’s civil war but President Bashar Assad cannot be a party to any settlement.

The meeting of the 70-member Western, Arab and Turkish-backed coalition is taking place before Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem is due for talks in Moscow, one of Assad’s last foreign allies, and as UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi renews efforts for a deal.

The draft SNC communique, seen by Reuters, omitted a direct demand for Assad’s removal, in a softening of tone from past positions that insisted the president must go before there could be any negotiations.

The document said Assad and his cohorts must be held accountable for bloodshed, and that any peace deal must be under the auspices of the United States and Russia.

“Bashar Assad and the military and security apparatus commands are responsible for the decisions that have led the country to what it is now, are outside the political process and are not part of any political solution in Syria,” it said.

“They have to be held accountable for the crimes they have committed.”

The initiative comes from coalition president Moaz Alkhatib, a cleric from Damascus who played a role in the peaceful protest movement against Assad at the beginning of the uprising in 2011.

Alkhatib’s supporters say the initiative has popular support inside Syria from people who want to see a peaceful departure of Assad and a halt to the war that has increasingly pitted Assad’s Alawite minority sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, against Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority.

But rebel fighters on the ground, over whom Alkhatib has little control, are generally against the proposal.

The Syrian Islamic Liberation Front, which represents armed brigades, said in a statement it was opposed to Alkhatib’s initiative because it ignored the revolt’s goal of “the downfall of the regime and all its symbols”.

Veteran opposition campaigner Walid al-Bunni, a coalition member who supports Alkhatib, played down the omission of a direct mention of Assad’s removal.

“We are demanding his accountability for the bloodshed and destruction he has wreaked. I think the message is clear enough,” Bunni said.

Alkhatib formulated the initiative in broad terms last month after talks with the Russian and Iranian foreign ministers in Munich but without consulting the coalition, catching the umbrella organization by surprise.

A powerful bloc in the coalition dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, the only organized group in the political opposition, criticized the initiative as harming the revolution.

But a Brotherhood source said the group will not scuttle the initiative because it was confident Assad is not interested in a negotiated exit, which could help convince the international community to support the armed struggle for his removal.

“Russia is key,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We are showing the international community that we are willing to take criticism from the street but the problem is Assad and his inner circle. They do not want to leave.”

Russia hopes Alkhatib will visit soon in search of a breakthrough. Bunni said Alkhatib would not go to Moscow without the coalition’s approval and that he would not be there at the same time as Moualem.

“In my opinion Alkhatib should not go to Moscow until Russia stops sending arms shipments to the Assad regime,” Bunni said.

Formal backing by the coalition to Alkhatib’s initiative would give it more weight internationally and undermine Assad supporters’ argument that the opposition is too divided to be considered a serious player, opposition sources said.


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