Suicide bombers strike Syrian capital
16 March 2017 – Suicide bombers hit the main judicial building and a restaurant in Damascus yesterday, killing at least 30 people and spreading fear across Syria’s capital as the country’s civil war entered its seventh year with no end in sight.
The first attacker, reportedly dressed in a military uniform, struck inside the Justice Palace, located near the famous and crowded Hamidiyeh market. The explosion left bodies lying amid pools of blood and shattered glass in the building’s main hall, where a picture of President Bashar Assad hung on one of the walls.
The official news agency, SANA, said another suicide explosion about an hour later struck a restaurant in the Rabweh district of Damascus, an area known for its restaurants and cafes, leading to multiple casualties, mostly women and children. Syrian TV showed overturned plastic chairs and tables at the restaurant with bloodstains on the floor.
The Ikhbariyeh TV channel said the attacker was being chased by security agents when he ran into a restaurant and detonated his explosives’ vest there.
The bombings were the latest in a spate of deadly explosions and suicide attacks targeting government-controlled areas in Syria and its capital. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for either attack, but other, similar attacks in recent weeks were claimed by al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria, which has come under pressure lately amid infighting with other insurgent factions in Syria and airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition.
The al-Qaida branch in Syria, The Levant Liberation Committee, denied responsibility for the attacks late yesterday. In a statement released on its Telegram channel, it said that its targets are restricted to security and military installations.
The attacks came as Syrians mark the sixth anniversary of the country’s civil war, which has killed more than 400,000 people and displaced millions of others. The conflict began in March 2011 as a popular uprising against Assad’s rule but quickly descended into a full-blown civil war that has left large parts of the country in ruins. The chaos allowed al-Qaida and later the Islamic State group to gain a foothold in the war-torn nation.
Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said yesterday following a three-day trip to Syria that what he has seen is “unprecedented,” even in comparison to conflict zones like Yemen, Sudan, Sierra Leone and Rwanda.
“I have never seen a level of destruction so big as I have been seeing over the last few days,” he said.
Russia and Turkey, who back opposing sides of the conflict, have been working together to launch a political track focused initially on a cease-fire in Syria, and the U.N.’s Syria envoy held another round of peace talks in Geneva recently, but the talks have gone nowhere. Militant groups such as the Islamic State group and the Nusra Front, now known as the Levant Liberation Committee, are not part of those talks.