News / Middle East

    Bomb Blast Hits Busy Damascus Market

    Civil defence members try to put out a fire after what activists claim was a car explosion in a market in central Douma in the eastern al-Ghouta, near Damascus June 28, 2014
    Civil defence members try to put out a fire after what activists claim was a car explosion in a market in central Douma in the eastern al-Ghouta, near Damascus June 28, 2014
    Edward Yeranian

    A car bomb blew up in a rebel-held Damascus suburb Saturday, killing at least two people and wounding several others.

    Witnesses and activists say the blast hit a busy market in Douma.

    No one has claimed responsibility, but opposition activists are accusing the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) of being behind the bombing. The al-Qaida offshoot, which has also seized large parts of northern Iraq and is threatening to overrun Baghdad, has a rivalry with several other rebel groups in the Syrian capital fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.

    Amateur video at the scene shows rescue workers carrying a bleeding child to a makeshift ambulance; bodies are visible amid chunks of rubble as fire burns from at least one vehicle. Young men scream as they search for victims while firefighters douse the blazing wreckage as thick black smoke covers the area.

    Witnesses say the explosion hit the popular market in the Eastern Ghouta region of the capital as crowds milled about. The exact number of casualties could not be immediately confirmed but Arab satellite channels reported that at least a dozen people were killed.

    Syrian government media did not immediately report the blast.

    Rival militant groups

    Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told VOA that opposition activists believe ISIL militants are behind the blast because of recent tensions between the group and other rebel groups controlling the area.

    The explosion struck as rebel fighters fight ISIL militants in the Syrian border town of al-Bukamel. Al-Arabiya TV reported that fighters from the Free Syrian Army and the Nusra Front had succeeded by midday Saturday in chasing the ISIL militants from the town, a claim VOA could not independently confirm.

    Amateur video showed a rebel commander from the al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front pledging loyalty to ISIL. Opposition sources in the region say the defection of some rebel fighters to ISIL set off the conflict several days ago. ISIL militants reportedly control the town of Qaim on the Iraqi side of the border facing al-Bukamel.

    Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut, says that ISIL militants are frequently accused of having ties to both Iran and the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad, because they frequently attack opposition fighters rather than Syrian government forces.

    "ISIL has always had the motivation to attack the opposition," he said. "They were never engaged in any military conflict with the Syrian regime forces. If you take the nature of their activities, the only beneficiaries from ISIL's activities are the Iranian regime and the Syrian regime."

    Khashan argues that the brutal nature of ISIL is indicative of what he believes is their overriding ideology, explaining that that ISIL militants believe the world is “on the verge of a new millennial order, with the battle between good and evil” reaching a crescendo.

    “In order for good to emerge out of evil,” he says, “they think that hell will have to break loose everywhere.”

    US moves to fund moderates

    The White House has asked Congress for $500 million to arm and train the moderate Syrian opposition battling ISIL and other extremists.

    Also Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in Jeddah for what the State Department calls positive and warm talks about the crises in Syria and Iraq with Saudi King Abdullah.

    A State Department official said the king told Kerry the Saudis are taking steps to address the ISIL threat. The official gave no details citing security reasons.

    Kerry spent much of this past week in the Middle East encouraging regional leaders to tackle the Islamist militant threat.

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