Louai Bechara, AFP
Last updated: 10 May, 2012

Desperate search for loved ones amid Damascus carnage

A hand here, a leg there, part of a crushed face, the scene in central Damascus is apocalyptic, as emergency workers fill nylon bags with what is left of dozens of people killed by two suicide bombers.

Moving among them, dazed, people survey the charred bodies scattered around the scene and look in hope for a loved one who may have survived.

At least 55 people died and another 372 were wounded early Thursday when the bombers detonated vehicles packed with more than a tonne of explosives during the morning rush hour.

They were the deadliest bombings since an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad erupted 14 months ago. And as has become customary after every bombing since then, the government blamed terrorists for the blasts and the opposition blamed the regime.

Among the still-smoking carcasses of more than 200 burnt-out cars, a panicked woman raises her hands to the sky.

Television showed images of a woman’s charred hand on a steering wheel, her gold bracelets dangling from her wrist.

A man screams: “My cousin. I want to know what has happened to my cousin.”

Another laments: “Poor Syria; poor us.”

And another, a survivor, said: “Nothing like this has ever happened in my life.”

For a radius of 50 metres (yards) around the blast site, building facades were gutted, cars and buses mangled, trees blown over.

One of the buildings severely damaged was a nine-storey security headquarters.

It was about 8:00 am (0500 GMT) when the first bomb exploded, followed a minute later by the second. The blasts punched out craters some three metres (10 feet) wide and two metres (seven feet) deep.

Amid the scenes of desolation, a man shouts: “Is this the freedom you want?” in allusion to the popular uprising. “Children were on their way to school; employees on their way to work.”

“These are presents from (Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip) Erdogan and (Sheikh) Hamad (bin Khalifa al-Thani, the emir of Qatar),” screams another.

Qatar has previously called for arming Syria’s rebels, while Turkey, once an ally of Damascus, has become one of the regime’s most vocal critics.

As the emergency teams carried out their grim task, filling at least 15 bags with body parts, the chief of UN observers in Syria, Norwegian Major General Robert Hood, arrived at the scene to inspect it.

He was quickly surrounded by dozens of regime supporters, many of them armed civilians, who shouted: “With our blood and with our souls we sacrifice ourselves for you, Bashar.”

Damascus has been the target of a number of bombs in the past few months.

Suicide bombers hit two security service bases in the capital on December 23, killing 44 people. The most recent was on April 27, when 11 people were killed in a suicide bombing.

The government crackdown on the uprising and fighting between loyalist forces and rebels that broke out in March 2011 has killed around 12,000 people, mostly civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said.