Suicide bombers hit Justice Palace and popular restaurant in central Damascus
UPDATE 1530 GMT: Well-placed local sources confirm to EA that, after the suicide bombings of the past week, the number of checkpoints in Damascus has passed 250.
The pro-opposition Orient News puts the number at 284.
A worker at a printing office said, “After the bombings yesterday, the streets of Damascus emptied out except for the security forces and police. Now, there are checkpoints everywhere and they are carefully inspecting the cars.”
A Damascus University student says:
People are mentally exhausted, struggling with the scrutiny and searches [of security forces]. Reserves are now being called up to shore up checkpoints. There’s much more traffic, and the security forces are exercising their power over the people.
You can see fear and terror in people’s eyes. There were bombings in [these] places, which means it could happen anytime, anywhere.
People are afraid that it will happen again, that we will see Damascus become another Iraq.
ORIGINAL POST: At least 31 people and scores are wounded in Syria’s capital Damascus in the second set of suicide bombings within five days.
The first suicide bomber detonated his explosives in the Justice Palace in Damascus’s Old City, killing 31 people and wounding 102. The second bomber targeted the popular restaurant Abu Ahmad in the al-Rabweh district, injuring 28, according to police sources. A third explosive device was defused near the President’s Bridge.
A local source says there were numerous deaths in the restaurant, although State media are not publishing this. Photos of the scene show severed limbs amid the blood and wreckage.
The suicide bomber attacked as a birthday party was taking place in the restaurant, on the banks of Barada river and a well-known tourist attraction.
Inside the Justice Palace:
Abu Mohammad al-Joulani, the military commander of the jihadist bloc Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, has promised a change in tactics in Syria’s conflict with attacks behind frontlines.
HTS claimed last Saturday’s double suicide bombings in southern Damascus that killed at least 40 people, mainly Iraqis. Reports conflicted over most of the casualties were “pilgrims”, the line of the Assad regime and the Iraqi Foreign Ministry, or pro-Assad militiamen.
The bloc, led by the faction Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, also claimed suicide bombings in Homs in late February that killed 32 people, including the head of the Military Security Branch, Brigadier General Hasan Daabol.
However, up to now the tactics have not included civilian-only targets such as a restaurant, and HTS has denied any involvement in Wednesday’s bombings.
The Assad regime asserted that the attacks pointed to their success against opponents. “The attack came as a retaliation against the latest victories of the Syrian army and the political victories in [talks in] Geneva and Astana,” Justice Minister Najem al-Ahma Ahmad said.
TOP PHOTO: Aftermath of Wednesday’s suicide bombing of restaurant in central Damascus
25 Killed — Including 14 in Single Family — in Airstrikes on Idlib
Pro-Assad airstrikes killed at least 25 people, including 14 in a single family, in Idlib Province on Wednesday.
The members of the al-Sayeh family died when a four-story residential building was destroyed by two airstrikes that hit the al-Qasour district of Idlib city.
Sixteen of those killed were children.
Dr Mustafa Mahmoud al-Sayeh, injured in the attacks, buried his wife, six children, and his brother’s family. He was planning to return with his family to al-Bab in Aleppo Province, but delayed the journey over landmines left behind when the Islamic State retreated from the city in late February.
Political Talks Close After Opposition No-Show
Political talks in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana closed on Wednesday without any substantive discussion, after conditions were not met for opposition-rebel participation.
The opposition-rebel bloc had insisted on an effective ceasefire before the talks, the fourth since late January, resumed. With pro-Assad attacks continuing across Syria, two days of meetings could only present a regime delegation with Russia, Turkey, and Iran, the three powers brokering the discussions.
Alexander Lavrentiev, the head of the Russian delegation, told reporters that a proposal for a commission to draft a new Syrian constitution was considered; however, the lead regime negotiator, Bashar al Ja’afari, rejected the claim: “We did not discuss this at all.”
A Russian-Turkish-Iranian statement said there would be another session in Astana in early May.
Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry said an opposition-rebel delegation was expected to arrive in Astana on Wednesday. A rebel official confirmed that a “technical delegation” was en route but said it was not a negotiating team.