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Thursday
Feb212013

Syria Live Coverage: Multiple Bombings in Damascus

Aftermath of a car bomb in Damascus today


Today's Egypt (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Protests Continue in Port Said
Wednesday's Syria Live Coverage: A "Humanitarian Tragedy"

1930 GMT: Death Toll Nearing 200. According to the Local Coordination Committees, 189 people have been killed so far today:

96 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its suburbs most of them in the bombing that targeted Al-Hayat Bridge in the capital, 32 in Daraa, 32 in Aleppo, 11 in Homs, 9 in Idlib, 4 in Hama, 3 in Deir Ezzor, and 2 in Raqqa.

"Most of them" in Damascus does not mean all of them. So far the death toll would be a high average amount even if it were not from the car bombs, and the day is not over yet.

1621 GMT: Football Player Killed in Rebel Mortar Attack. Yesterday we reported that rebel mortar attacks hit several locations in the Tishreen district of Damascus, including one of the Presidential palaces. However, the Tishreen neighborhood also contains the most important stadium in Damascus, annd mortars also fell in a front of a hotel housing football players, killing one player, 19 year old Youssef Suleiman of the Homs-based al-Wathbah club, and wounding several others.

Suleiman's team-mates said the mortars landed in front of the hotel. "We were collecting our things about to head to the stadium when we heard the first explosion and the windows were blown off," said Ali Ghosn, 20. "Youssef was hit in the neck. We ran out to the corridor when the second explosion struck and I saw Youssef fall down bleeding from his neck."

Three other players were wounded, including one who was reported to be in critical condition.

The attack occurred a few hours before the team was to play a league game against the Hama-based al-Mawaair club. The game was postponed after the mortar strike.

1549 GMT: Fire on Mt. Qassioun. Mt. Qassion is often on the minds of the residents of Damascus. It is a large peak, overlooking the northern districts of the capital, but it is also home to some of the Syrian military's most potent weapons - artillery units and surface-to-surface rockets. From Mt. Qassion is at the center of a series of linked military bases that form the main defense of Syria's capital.

But today it appears to be on fire.

From various vantage points from east to west, Damascus residents have filmed huge clouds of smoke rising from the mountain. Some Free Syrian Army forums are suggesting that what is on fire may be an artillery warehouse, possibly one used to store ammunition. That's possible, but all this raises the more important question...

Why is it burning? There don't seem to be any corresponding reports of a rebel offensive against the base, and as this particular base would be very hard to reach, such an offensive would be a surprise to us.

1536 GMT: Death Toll Rises. According to the Local Coordination Committees, 156 people have been killed so far today:

84 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its suburbs most of them in the bombing that targeted Al-Hayat Bridge in the capital, 32 in Daraa, 23 in Aleppo, 8 in Homs, 5 in Idlib, two 2 in Raqqa and 2 in Deir Ezzor.

It's not just in Damascus where the numbers of casualties are much higher than normal. The fighting in the provincial capital in Daraa city is at levels we've yet to see in the south.

1438 GMT: Images of the Car Bombs in Damascus. The CFDPC, a network of activists who work to report on Damascus and its surroundings, have published a video of the car bomb blast sight in the Marzaa district, below:

They have also posted a picture gallery of the Barzeh bombing.

1425 GMT: Death Toll Rising. According to the Local Coordination Committees, 114 people have been killed so far today:

54 martyrs in Damascus and its suburbs most of them in the bombing that targeted Al-Hayat Bridge in the capital, 23 in Aleppo, 20 in Daraa, 8 in Homs, 5 in Idlib, two 2 in Raqqa and 2 in Deir Ezzor.

This number may under-count the number killed during the car bombing. Regardless, the number is 45 minutes old and at the rate of new reports coming in it is likely to rise soon.

See our note about the casualty figures published by the LCC.

1419 GMT: Rebels Target Military Central Command. Earlier, Scott Lucas reported that, according to Syrian State TV, mortar shells have exploded near the Syrian Army General Command in central Damascus, causing no casualties.

Interestingly, the Free Syrian Army has posted video showing them conducting a rocket attack, reportedly against the building:

1411 GMT: Palestinian Leader Injured in Damascus Car Bomb. The leader of the DLFP, a Palestinian group with a large presence in the Yarmouk Refugee Camp in Damascus, has been injured in today's bomb blast:

Nayef Hawatmeh, who is head of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, suffered light wounds in his hands and face when he was hit by flying glass. His office is about 500 meters from the site of Thursday's explosion in central Damascus, which killed at least 31 people and injured more than 200 others.

This raises an important question - was Hawatmeh the target? The DFLP has openly supported the democratic movement, but officially has tried to stay on the sidelines of the fighting, stressing instead the need for a political settlement. Some DFLP members however have been seen joining the rebels in the Yarmouk camp.

It's still unclear who was responsible for this attack.

1352 GMT: Field Hospital Bombed in Daraa. Yesterday we reported about how rebels had pushed to the center of Daraa city. Today, AP is reporting that a field hospital has been bombed and 18 people have been killed, including civilians and combatants.

The Britain-based activist group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said those killed Thursday include eight rebel fighters, three medics, one woman and one young girl.

Meanwhile, the LCC reports that 12 people have been killed in airstrikes in Daraa city. It's unclear whether this includes the field hospital, or this is a separate report.

1328 GMT: Free Syrian Army Denies Responsibility. The FSA has denied responsibility for today's attacks, according the The Guardian who cites the Damascus Media Office. That same opposition media group says that at least 40 are dead and 237 are wounded in the blasts.

James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us started today.

1243 GMT: Hezbollah v. Insurgents. Confusion over whether or not the Free Syrian Army has shelled two Hezbollah position on the Syria-Lebanon borders, with competing media reports both claiming the FSA as a source.

Al Jazeera is asserting that Al Arabiya's announcement of the shelling (see 1148 GMT) is false. Activists are also denying the attacks.

1213 GMT:Negotiations. Overshadowed by today's bombings in Damascus, the opposition National Coalition has reiterated its willingness to negotiate a peace agreement while insisting that President Assad cannot be a party to any settlement.

The document says Assad and his aides must be held accountable for bloodshed that has claimed the lives of 70,000 people. At the same time, it makes no direct reference to Assad's removal.

The document will be debated at a meeting of the opposition leadership in Cairo today.

1154 GMT:Attacks in Damascus. State TV says mortar shells have exploded near the Syrian Army General Command in central Damascus, causing no casualties.

The station said the building was empty because it was under renovation.

1148 GMT:Hezbollah v. Insurgents. Al-Arabiya, citing a Free Syrian Army statement, says insurgents have shelled two Hezbollah positions in Lebanon and Syria.

On Tuesday, the FSA gave Hezbollah a 48-hour ultimatum to halt attacks inside Syria. The Lebanese organisation reportedly is in control of eight villages near the Lebanese border.

1136 GMT:Damascus Bombs. Back from an academic break to find claims of up to four explosions in Damascus, with the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights saying 31 people have been killed.

A reporter for Syrian State TV said he saw seven body bags and counted 17 burnt-out cars and another 40 that were destroyed or badly damaged by the blast near Baath Party headquarters, which left a crater 1.5 metres deep in the road.

SANA State news agency said casualties included children at a nearby school in Mazraa. State TV said security forces had detained a would-be suicide bomber with five bombs in his car, one of them weighing 300 kilogrammes (660 pounds).

There are no details of casualties from two other car bombs outside security centres in the north-eastern district of Barzeh.

Activists are also claiming three rockets hit Al-Jahez Park in the capital.

0958 GMT:SCUD-Type Attacks. According to intelligence gathered by Turkish authorities, the Syrian regime has fired more than 40 Scud-type ballistic missiles at insurgent positions in the north of the country since December, the Turkish Hurriyet Daily News reports.

The reports comes after at least 33 people, including 14 children and five women, were killed on Tuesday in Aleppo by an apparent surface-to-surface missile strike.

0955 GMT: Car Bomb in Damascus. Both activists and State media are reporting an explosion near the headquarters of the ruling Baath Party in the Mazraa neighbourhood in central Damascus.

Casualties are anticipated, with ambulances rushing to the scene. Windows of buildings have been shattered, with a large cloud of smoke visible throughout much of the city.

0715 GMT: Insurgent Advance. Wednesday's possible big news came on the military front, with insurgents reportedly advancing inside Daraa city, where the Syrian uprising began almost two years.

Last week, the fighters reportedly came into the city from the southwest, and on Tuesday, they claimed the capture of a checkpoint in the southeast Daraa city.

Yesterday, a series of videos and eyewitness reports claimed the insurgents were in the centre of the city, taking an Assad military checkpoint near a bakery and a mosque (map).

James Miller continues:

The insurgents have formed a new and unified alliance between the more moderate Free Syrian Army and the most moderate Islamist brigades, and that alliance started in Daraa Province. This alliance, along with their new weapons, appears to be a key reason for the insurgents  turning the tide in the south.

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