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September 07, 2012

At Least 5 Killed in Damascus Mosque Attack

by Mark Snowiss

An explosion outside a mosque in Syria's capital killed five security personnel and wounded several others Friday, as fighting raged in other areas of Damascus and dozens of bodies were reported found in two neighborhoods.

Syrian state television said the blast was caused by an explosives-rigged motorcycle at the Rukniyeh mosque in central Damascus. The Syrian capital has been hit by a string of explosions since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March last year.

Anti-government protests broke out in the capital and elsewhere, and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported fresh clashes between government troops and rebels in the Kazaz neighborhood of Damascus. The tightly controlled area is home to offices of several Syrian security agencies.

The British-based group also said Syrian residents have recovered 45 unidentified bodies in two areas near the capital, the latest such finds of suspected mass executions in the 18-month-long conflict.

At least 23 bodies were discovered Thursday in the eastern suburb of Zamalka, while another 22 were found in Qatana, southeast of the capital.

International Aid

In Geneva, the new head of the International Committee of the Red Cross said he had received "positive" commitments from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad this week to gain access to detainees and free up deliveries of badly needed aid.

Peter Maurer said his talks with Assad were "sober" and "clearly focused on humanitarian needs."

The ICRC chief told reporters he also visited rural areas around Damascus where residents told him "horrific accounts of armed attacks" and left him shocked. He said the accounts left him no doubt that Syria is engulfed in civil war since "all features of armed conflict are unfolding in front of us."

Maurer said he also received a positive response from Assad on his request to visit detainees.

The ICRC conducted a first series of visits to detainees in Damascus central prison last September. But future visits were stalled because the Syrian authorities did not allow Red Cross workers to interview prisoners in private or allow them to make follow-up visits.  

Those disagreements were later resolved. In May, the ICRC was allowed to visit inmates at Aleppo Central prison.  However, no visits have since taken place.

Maurer says the ICRC is in regular contact with opposition groups in Syria and abroad.  He says the agency is pressing these groups for permission to visit the prisoners they are holding.

Refugees

​​The European Union said Friday it will provide an additional $76 million in humanitarian aid to Syria as the number of people needing assistance topped 2.5 million.

Kristalina Georgieva, EU commissioner for humanitarian aid, said the new funds would go to providing shelter, medical aid and for other humanitarian purposes.

Also Friday, the United Nations refugee agency said the number of Syrians fleeing their homes continues to soar and that it would more than double aid to people displaced inside the country.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said the need for assistance within Syria is huge and requires a separate plan from the aid for refugees who have fled to neighboring countries.

So far, more than 246,000 Syrian refugees have been registered or are awaiting registration in surrounding nations, it added.

"The numbers are enormous," an agency spokesman said.

Of those refugees, more than 81,000 have entered Jordan, nearly 65,000 are in Lebanon, more than 78,000 are in Turkey and nearly 22,000 are in Iraq, according to UNHCR statistics.

Some information for this report was provided by Lisa Schlein in Geneva,  AP, AFP and Reuters.

Photo Gallery: Latest Images from Syria

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