Last Updated: Sat Sep 08, 2012 00:33 am (KSA) 21:33 pm (GMT)

Death toll mounts as bombs hit central Damascus; EU leaders meet on Syria

A car bomb struck the upscale area of Damascus, near the central law courts and ministry of information, state TV reported just two hours after a first bomb attack in the north of the capital. (AFP PHOTO / HO / SANA)
A car bomb struck the upscale area of Damascus, near the central law courts and ministry of information, state TV reported just two hours after a first bomb attack in the north of the capital. (AFP PHOTO / HO / SANA)

A car bomb struck an upscale area of Damascus on Friday, near the central law courts and ministry of information, state TV reported just two hours after a first bomb attack in the north of the capital, as violent crackdown leaves scores killed across Syria.

“A terrorist car bomb attack hit the Mazzeh area (west of Damascus), in a street between the justice palace and the ministry of information,” the state broadcaster said, according to AFP.

The central Damascus explosion only caused material damage to several cars in the area, the report said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported a car bomb blast near the central law courts.

As many as 125 people have been killed by the fire of Syrian forces across the country, Al Arabiya reported citing activists at the Local Coordination Committees.

The earlier blast, a motorcycle bomb, struck in the northern district of Rukn Eddin, killing at least five members of the security forces, according to state television.

The bomb exploded as worshippers left a mosque after Friday prayers in the area. “The terrorist attack killed five members of the security forces and injured several others,” the television report said.

The Observatory also said that at least five soldiers were killed, and at least six others were wounded.

Anti-regime protests have been held in towns and cities across Syria every Friday following weekly Muslim prayers since the March 2011 outbreak of an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

On Friday protests were held under the slogan of “Besieged Homs is calling us,” a reference to the central Syrian city which has been under army siege for several months.

Assad’s regime has blamed “armed terrorist groups” backed by the West and several Gulf countries for violence in Syria.

Rebels launched an offensive against Aleppo on July 20 and quickly seized several districts including Salaheddin, but the army later retook the district and other FSA-held areas.

Regime forces also bombarded Aleppo’s southeast district of Qadi Askar and Hanano in the northeast, the Britain-based Observatory said.

Elsewhere, two children were killed when Albu Kamal on the Iraqi border was shelled, and two rebels were killed by mortar fire in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, it said.

In the northwest province of Idlib, scores of homes were destroyed by shelling, while in Homs province, a child was killed in an air strike on rebel-held Rastan and three civilians died in the town of Talbisseh.

The bodies of 16 men were found in Harasta in Damascus province, some bearing signs of torture, the Observatory said, a day after residents recovered 45 bodies in two towns on the outskirts of the capital.

A total of at least 153 people were killed nationwide on Thursday -- 83 civilians, 24 rebels and 46 soldiers, the Observatory said.

The conflict has claimed a total of more than 26,000 lives since it erupted in mid-March 2011, according to Observatory estimates.

Amid the mounting carnage, the European Commission warned that the conflict in Syria is worsening and announced another 50 million euros ($63 million) in humanitarian aid to civilians.

It brings the total available from the Commission to 119 million euros ($152 million) and the EU’s contribution in all to 200 million euros, or half of all international help offered so far.

The announcement comes as EU foreign ministers held informal talks in Cyprus with Syria and Iran’s controversial nuclear program top of the agenda.

“Humanitarian needs are rising rapidly,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in the resort of Paphos.

“We need additional contributions to the human effort urgently. I want to put the proposal to my colleagues that other EU nations need to do more.”

The latest aid is aimed at reaching the 200,000 refugees massed in neighbors Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq as well as the 1.2 million people displaced inside Syria itself.

Hague said in a letter sent to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton ahead of the talks that the European Union needed to play a bigger role in resolving the crisis in Syria, which threatened to destabilize the region.

His counterparts from France and Italy, Laurent Fabius and Giulio Terzi, said in a separate letter to Ashton that the Syrian crisis had reached “a turning-point” and that the days “of this rotten regime are numbered.”

Like Hague, they said: “How the post-Assad Syria looks will affect the stability of the entire Middle East.”

The United Nations refugee agency in Geneva said on Friday it would more than double aid to people displaced inside Syria.

“UNHCR’s share of the budget in a revised Syria Humanitarian Response Plan being presented to donors this morning is more than doubling to $41.7 million,” the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said.

Peter Maurer, the new head of the International Committee of the Red Cross said in Geneva after a three-day visit to Syria he received positive commitments from Assad, but stressed those promises needed to be tested in coming weeks.

Maurer told reporters Assad “showed his commitment to work on many of the points I brought forward to him as obstacles to the work of the ICRC.”

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