Last updated: 7 January, 2012

Syria vows iron fist after deadly Damascus bomb

Syria held funerals on Saturday for 26 victims of a suicide bombing Damascus called a “terrorist attack,” promising an “iron fist” response, as activists reported another 21 civilians killed nationwide.

The opposition pointed the finger of blame for Friday’s bomb in the capital at the regime itself, as it did after similar attacks in the city on December 23 killed 44 people.

Among the dead on Saturday were four people killed by a rocket that targeted a pro-regime demonstration in the flashpoint central city of Homs, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Britain-based group said a total of 11 civilians were killed in Homs, and another 10 were killed in the restive province of Idlib in the northwest.

Saturday’s funerals of the Damascus bomb victims took place in the Al-Hassan mosque in the working-class Midan neighbourhood where the attack took place.

As thousands of regime supporters gathered outside, many waving flags, Damascus mufti Bashir Eid preached a funeral sermon in the presence of several ministers, officials and citizens.

“With our souls and our blood we will sacrifice ourselves for you,” the crowd outside chanted, referring to President Bashar al-Assad.

The official SANA news agency said mourners “denounced the heinous crimes committed by armed terrorist groups,” blamed by the regime for the violence.

The ruling party’s Al-Baath daily devoted half of its Saturday issue to the attack, in which 63 people were also wounded, including two pages of colour photos of the carnage.

It said Syrians were calling for the perpetrators to be “struck with an iron fist” after the interior ministry on Friday said “we will strike with an iron fist all those who undermine the security of the nation.”

Another headline said “we are not afraid of oil money,” referring to alleged involvement in the 10-month-old pro-democracy uprising by Gulf Arab oil states.

And the official Ath-Thawra daily said “terrorism is uprooted, not cured, and its eradication is inevitable.”

It blamed Islamists, saying they “committed many crimes in the past and they are doing it again today as a sign of defiance.”

That was a reference to a Muslim Brotherhood rebellion between 1978 and 1986 which was brutally crushed by Assad’s late father and predecessor, Hafez.

But the Brotherhood, which has since renounced violence, said on Friday: “we hold the regime, its agents and its gangs, fully responsible for this crime.”

It had also accused the government of orchestrating the December 23 attacks that the regime blamed on Al-Qaeda, and called for an international probe.

The umbrella Syrian National Council, which includes the Brotherhood, said Friday’s bombing “clearly bears the regime’s fingerprints.”

The United States condemned the attack, again calling for Assad to step down, while UN chief Ban Ki-moon said “all violence is unacceptable and must stop immediately.”

Close Assad ally Iran condemned the “terrorist attack.”

Foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said: “Without doubt, the unity and vigilance of the Syrian government and people are disappointing the enemies of Syria who think only of internal war, breaking up the country and making it submit to the demands of the axis of America and Zionism.”

The SNC said the UN Security Council had to take up the matter of the bloodshed, which the world body estimated in December had killed more than 5,000 people since pro-democracy protests erupted last March.

It said “a joint effort between the Arab League and the United Nations Security Council represents a first step toward the urgent and necessary measures to assure the protection of civilians, and to ensure that the regime does not commit additional bombings and killings.”

Activists have called for an Arab League observer mission that has been in Syria since December 26 to admit failure and hand the task over to the United Nations.

UN leader Ban reaffirmed an offer to train the Arab League observers.

The mission has been trying to assess whether the government is complying with a peace deal aimed at ending its deadly crackdown, but there has been no let-up in the violence amid new criticism of the observers.

The Arab League is to meet in Cairo on Sunday to discuss the mission, and deputy chief Adnan Issa told AFP that rather than withdraw the observers, the plan is to send more.

“We are not talking about a pull-out but reinforcing the mission,” Issa said, explaining that there were now 153 observers in Syria with another 10 due on Saturday from Jordan.

“The Arab states want the observers to continue their mission, and that it be reinforced,” he said.