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Syria Government, Opponents Trade Blame Over Massive Blast


United Nations observers in Syria leave the UN office in Damascus, April 26, 2012.

United Nations observers in Syria leave the UN office in Damascus, April 26, 2012.

The Syrian government blamed "terrorists" Thursday for a massive explosion in the central city of Hama that killed at least 16 people as the tenuous cease-fire continues to unravel amid more violence and a rising death toll.

Both government and rebels traded blame over the blast that caused a huge fireball in a residential neighborhood on Wednesday. The state-run news agency said terrorists were setting up an explosive device when it detonated in the neighborhood.

Anti-government activists, however, blamed security forces for causing the incident, which they say was part of violence that claimed at least 27 lives across the country on Wednesday.

Thursday, the Syrian Revolution General Commission says seven people were killed in anti-government related violence. It says most of the deaths resulted from government shelling in the eastern region of Deir el-Zour.

The opposition Syrian National Council called for an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting that would focus on protecting civilians in Syria. The group cited escalating attacks in Hama and other cities as reasons for the request.

The Associated Press says monitors on Thursday inspected the site of Wednesday's explosion in Hama. There was no immediate word on the outcome of their visit.

In another development, former Syrian Prime Minister Maarouf al-Dawalibi's son announced plans to form a government in exile. Nofal al-Dawalibi said the more prominent Syrian National Council had failed in its efforts to represent the Syrian people.

Over the coming months, the U.N. observer mission will expand from its current level of about a dozen monitors to about 300.

But Carnegie Middle East Center Director Paul Salem says Syria's continued violence will make it clear to observers that the cease-fire brokered by envoy Kofi Annan is not being implemented.

"I think it will be clear to the monitors very soon that this cease-fire is certainly not holding in a significant and final way," Salem said.

Salem adds that the presence of more U.N. monitors may not be enough to curb violence.

"Syria is a very large country. The violence has moved from one location to another. It will be a challenge for the monitors to try to be in all places all the time. It's also the case, I think, that the government will claim that when violence does erupt, they will claim that it started from the rebels and they are just responding," Salem explained.

The United Nations estimates that more than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria's crackdown on the uprising, while activist groups put the death toll at more than 11,000.

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