Scores killed and injured as bombings rock Damascus amid massive demos


A deadly suicide bombing rocked the Syrian capital on Friday, killing 9 people and fuelling growing skepticism about hopes for the success of a U.N.-backed peace plan.

Amid the unrest, demonstrations were taking place after weekly Muslim prayers in flashpoint cities such as Hama, where shelling by government troops has reportedly killed scores of people since Monday.

As many as 21 people have been killed by the gunfire of Syrian security forces across the country on Friday, Al Arabiya reported citing Syrian activists.

At least 9 people died and 28 others were wounded by Friday’s blast, which hit as worshippers were leaving weekly prayers at the nearby Zein al-Abidin mosque in the central Midan district, state television said.

The report blamed “terrorists,” the term used by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad to refer to rebels, and said civilians and security force members were among the casualties.

Television footage showed gruesome images, including a severed hand, pieces of flesh and pools of blood.

A separate blast hit an industrial zone of Damascus, but there were no reports of casualties, and three security agents were wounded in a blast in the coastal city of Banias, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Assad’s regime has repeatedly blamed “armed terrorist groups” for the violence, and for failing to abide by a putative ceasefire that went into force on April 12.

But U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said the regime was in contravention of a six-point peace deal by keeping troops and heavy weapons in urban areas, and expressed alarm about reports of population centers being shelled.

On Thursday, 27 people died in Syria, most of them civilians, Syrian activists told Al Arabiya.

And overnight clashes between troops and rebels in the central city of Homs killed at least one army deserter and wounded another 15, according to AFP.

More than 9,000 people have died since a popular uprising erupted against Assad’s regime in March 2011, the U.N. says, while non-governmental groups put the figure at more than 11,100.

The Local Coordination Committees, which organize protests, said a massive demonstration began at Sayed Ahmed Mosque in Damascus’ Qadam district on Friday, with security forces firing on it and making arrests.

It also said several people were injured in the eastern oil city of Deir al-Zor after security forces opened gunfire to disperse a demonstration.

Opposition figure Walid al-Bunni said the accord drawn up by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan was likely to fail because it obliges Syria to allow free demonstrations.

“If the Annan plan which provides for peaceful demonstrations is applied, millions of Syrians will take to the streets and the regime will fall,” he told AFP in Cairo.

The truce, which has never witnessed a day without violence, is to be monitored by 300 U.N. observers due to arrive in Syria in the coming weeks. A small advance team is already on the ground, and will be doubled to 30 by month's end, a U.N. official said on Friday.

The U.N. said Ban “remains deeply troubled by the continued presence of heavy weapons, military equipment and army personnel in population centers.”

This was “in contravention of the Syrian government’s commitments to withdraw its troops and heavy weapons from these areas,” he said, demanding Damascus “comply with its commitments without delay.”

Western nations have expressed strong doubts that the U.N. observers will be able to work, and the United States has already warned it may not renew the mission's initial three-month mandate.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said the Security Council must be ready to order sanctions if Syria flouts commitments to halt violence.

The Syrian National Council, the main opposition group in exile, has called for an emergency Security Council meeting to discuss a resolution to protect civilians.

The Arab League said it would ask the U.N. to ensure the immediate protection of civilians, but without going as far as demanding the use of force.

On Wednesday, France raised the prospect of military intervention if Annan’s peace plan fails.

Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said France is planning to push next month for a “Chapter 7” Security Council resolution if Assad’s forces do not pull back -- a diplomatic move that could lead to action ranging from economic sanctions to military intervention, according to Reuters.

However, Juppe added such a resolution, which was also mooted by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week, was unlikely to pass, alluding to previous Security Council vetoes by Russia and China.

Moscow, a long-time Damascus ally blamed the recent violence in Hama on rebel forces and hinted at al-Qaeda involvement.

Western powers have said they intend to push for an arms embargo and U.N. sanctions.

Russia and China have made clear that they would veto any attempt to authorize Libya-style military action in Syria and have resisted the idea of sanctions.