Suicide bombers blew up vehicles at two security service bases in the Syrian capital on Friday, state television reported while pointing the finger of blame at al-Qaeda.
At least 44 people were killed and 166 others wounded in the twin bomb attacks, Reuters reported, adding that most of those killed were civilians.
“Two attacks carried out by suicide bombers in vehicles packed with explosives targeted bases of state security and another branch of the security services,” the television said, after AFP correspondents heard two large explosions.
“Initial inquiries hold al-Qaeda responsible,” it added.
State television said that “several soldiers and a large number of civilians were killed in the two attacks carried out by suicide bombers in vehicles packed with explosives against bases of state security and another branch of the security services.”
A delegation of Arab League officials visited the sites of two explosions in Damascus on Friday to inspect damage, Syrian state television said.
A member of the Arab League team, contacted by telephone by Reuters, did not give details of the group’s movements but did say members were holding meetings.
Witnesses said the bombers struck in the Kfar Suseh neighborhood of the city. A car tried to ram its way into a state security compound, while another car exploded in front of a security service building in the same area.
“On the first day after the arrival of the Arab observers, this is the gift we get from the terrorists and al-Qaeda, but we are going to do all we can to facilitate the Arab League mission,” Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Meqdad told reporters at one of the bomb sites, according to AFP.
Asked to comment on suggestions that the bombings had been engineered by the regime itself, Meqdad shot back: “Anyone who makes such allegations is a criminal.”
The opposition group, the Syrian National Council, made just such a claim.
“The Syrian regime, alone, bears all the direct responsibility for the two terrorist explosions,” said an SNC statement received in Nicosia.
“It wanted to send a warning message to the observers for them not to approach security centers.”
The regime is trying to give the world the impression “that it faces danger coming from abroad and not a popular revolution demanding freedom and dignity,” the statement added.
The SNC also accused the regime of having transferred “thousands of prisoners (from jails) to fortified military barracks,” to which the observers would not have access.
Lebanese armed group Hezbollah accused the “terrorist” United States of the bombings that targeted security service buildings in Damascus.
“These bombings which resulted in the death and injury of dozens of people, mainly women and children, are the specialty of the United States, the mother of terrorism,” read a statement released by the Shiite movement, a major ally of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, according to AFP.
The statement said the timing of the bombings clearly signaled they were a “cowardly, bloody act of revenge” against the United States’ “defeat” in Iraq.
“This horrific terrorist crime... committed one day after the coordinated bombings that targeted Baghdad and other cities across Iraq is a cowardly, bloody act of revenge after the United States’ humiliating withdrawal from Iraq,” read the statement.
Syria’s Foreign Ministry spokesman has said Lebanon warned Damascus two days ago that al-Qaeda had infiltrated into Syria from its territory.
“The Lebanese authorities warned us two days ago that al-Qaeda group infiltrated to Syria from (north Lebanon’s town of) Ersal,” spokesman Jihad Makdesi told Reuters in an email.
“And today’s suicide bombers caused the death of around 40 and more than 150 injuries, all are civilians and military personnel. Freedom seekers should know that this is not the way to achieve democracy.”
The blasts came as an advance team was in Damascus to prepare the logistics for an Arab League observer mission to oversee a plan to end nine months of unrest that has killed more than 5,000 people, according to the United Nations.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem has said he expects the observers to vindicate his government's contention that the unrest is the work of “armed terrorists,” not overwhelmingly peaceful protesters as maintained by Western governments and human rights watchdogs.
A Britain-based rights group also reported Friday’s blasts.
“Two blasts just rocked the Syrian capital Damascus, followed by the sound of heavy shooting in the vicinity of the general intelligence headquarters,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement received by AFP in Nicosia.
The bombings in Damascus were the first of their kind since the 1980s when then president Hafez al-Assad, father of incumbent Bashar al-Assad, fought an armed uprising by the since banned Muslim Brotherhood.