An Islamist group calling itself Al-Nusra Front has claimed responsibility on the Internet for a deadly suicide bombing near the Syrian city of Hama last month, the SITE Monitoring Service said Saturday.
Al-Nusra Front named the bomber as Abu Bakr al-Hamawi, and said he detonated his explosives-laden vehicle at a restaurant where Syrian security forces were dining on April 20, to target military staff who took part in massacring protestors in the town of Latamnah.
The group said 350 people were present at the time of the attack, but did not give numbers of casualties.
The U.S.-based SITE, which tracks jihadi websites, said the Islamist group posted its claim on May 4.
President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has been trying to crush an uprising in Syria since March 2011.
Overall, more than 11,000 people have been killed in the 14 months since the outbreak of the revolt, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.
On Saturday, an explosion killed several people in Aleppo and two blasts hit a Damascus highway in further signs that rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad are shifting tactics towards homemade explosives.
Syria’s state news agency said three people had been killed, one of them a child, and 21 wounded by a booby-trapped car in the northern city of Aleppo.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Humans Rights, which monitors the 14-month-old revolt against Assad, said the blast killed five and wrecked a car wash in Tal al-Zarazeer, one of the poorest suburbs of Syria's commercial hub.
A member of the rebel Free Syrian Army claimed responsibility for the bombing, telling Reuters in Beirut that the car wash was used by members of a pro-Assad militia.
“We placed a bomb inside a car,” Ali al-Halabi said, naming the car wash owner and accusing him of raping a woman in front of her husband. “I went to the area afterwards and saw seven bodies and many wounded.”
Aleppo has been spared the worst of a conflict that has turned some cities into battle zones, but on Thursday security forces and students wielding knives attacked anti-Assad protesters at the university, killing four and detaining 200.
In Damascus, two bombs exploded on central al-Thawra Street, destroying nine cars. There was no word on casualties.
Saturday’s bombings dealt another blow to a crumbling U.N.-backed truce. Fifty out of a planned total of 300 United Nations observers are now in Syria to monitor the ceasefire declared on April 12, but their presence has not halted the violence.
Saudi Arabia on Sunday renewed a warning to its citizens to leave Syria and not to travel to the unrest-swept country.
The kingdom, which has repeatedly called for world action against Damascus and called for rebels there to be armed, was one of six Gulf countries to expel Syria’s ambassadors and withdraw its own in February.
Eve of vote
Monday’s vote, against a backdrop of unrest which the Observatory says has killed more than 11,000 people since March last year, will do little to change the autocratic country, according to regime critics and analysts.
The vote, initially scheduled for September 2011, was postponed to May 7 this year after Assad announced the launch of a reform process.
Bashar al-Haraki, a member of the Syrian National Council, the principal opposition coalition, has labelled the elections a “farce which can be added to the regime’s masquerade.”
Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Centre, told AFP the elections were “cosmetic” and “no one in the international community takes these elections seriously.”
Washington has described them as “ridiculous.”
Security and logistical concerns notwithstanding, the credibility of the vote has also been hit by the refusal of the main opposition forces to participate.
Monday’s election will be the first time Syria has held multi-party elections since the adoption in February by referendum of a new constitution that ended the five-decade stranglehold on power of the ruling Baath party.
Nine parties have been created, and seven have candidates vying for a parliamentary seat.
Pro-regime parties led by the Baath are represented under a coalition called the National Progressive Front.
A total of 7,195 candidates have registered to stand for the 250 seats, state news agency SANA said.
But experts believe little will change politically in Syria, where the tenuous U.N.-backed ceasefire that came into effect on April 12 has failed to take hold.
“The elections are a step in a void and will not lead to any change in the political landscape and security of Syria,” Oraib al-Rantawi, director of the Amman-based al-Quds Centre for Political Studies, told AFP.
It is taking place “amid a lack of security, continued killings and violence... while (many) are detained, suffering or displaced,” Rantawi said, dismissing the elections as “media propaganda.”
“This will be a parliament of liars. I will not vote for a parliament built on the blood of the martyrs,” an officer of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) told AFP news agency.