Surge of violence across Syria kills over two dozen
BEIRUT — Violence flared across Syria on Sunday, as an explosion killed more than two dozen anti-government fighters in the central city of Homs and shells struck areas of Damascus, the capital, killing at least two people. On Saturday, a man died after a riot broke out in the crowded Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.
The explosion in the Old City of Homs occurred when a car bomb that rebels were preparing detonated prematurely. It killed 30 to 40 fighters, including two field commanders, according to insurgents reached by telephone and text message in the area, which the government has blockaded.
The episode, reported differently by state news media and an antigovernment monitoring group, was significant for several reasons. It showed that some fighters in the Old City are still planning large attacks despite the government’s continuing siege, and despite its offer of a truce and amnesty that scores of their comrades have accepted. And in an indication of the divisions the blockade and amnesties have sown, one former insurgent said the bombing had been planned by one group of fighters to kill others.
The insurgent, Abu Helmi, who evacuated recently to the Waer neighborhood from the Old City, said the explosion had been set off by fighters who favor a truce to eliminate some of the 300 hard-liners who oppose it. “It was an inside job,” Abu Helmi said he had been told by witnesses, “to kill the fighters who disagree with the truce.”
While it was impossible to confirm his account, it coincided with charges by some fighters, mediators and government officials that those rebels who want to accept the truce have been threatened by a minority who disagree.
But Abu Bilal al-Homsi, an insurgent spokesman in the Old City, said that several groups, including the Nusra Front — which the United States has designated a terrorist organization — had been planning to use the car bomb to allow fighters to break out of the blockaded areas.
The official Syrian news media gave different reports, with state television calling the explosion an “ambush” against the insurgents and the state news agency, SANA, echoing Abu Bilal’s account.
In Damascus, two people were killed when a mortar shell struck near the Opera House in the government-controlled center. Recently, government bombings of neighborhoods that refuse truce deals and insurgents’ lobbing shells into civilian areas have chipped away at a tentative calm around the capital. In the northern city of Aleppo, the government continued its campaign of using so-called barrel bombs — large, indiscriminate weapons that have killed hundreds — with at least two deaths reported.
At the Zaatari refugee camp, home to 100,000 of the 500,000 registered Syrian refugees in Jordan, a protest turned violent on Saturday, with police officers firing tear-gas canisters and gunshots ringing out, according to the United Nations refugee agency. Three Syrians were shot, the agency said, and one died.