Last updated: 7 September, 2012

‘Five killed’ in blast outside Damascus mosque

Bomb attacks struck Damascus, killing five soldiers on a Friday of anti-regime protests and clashes between security forces and rebels as EU heads met to boost aid to civilians caught in Syria’s conflict.

A motorcycle bomb struck as worshippers left a mosque after weekly prayers in the northern neighbourhood of Rokn Eddin, state television said. “The terrorist attack killed five members of the security forces and injured several others.”

In a second attack, a car bomb caused damage near the courthouses in central Damascus, the television said, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said another blast struck the Salhiyeh district.

Neither reported casualties in that incident.

Witnesses told AFP the capital’s southern suburb of Tadamun and neighbouring Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmuk came under heavy shellfire.

Despite violence which swept the country, anti-regime protests were held in several towns and villages, according to the Britain-based Observatory.

On the southeast outskirts of Damascus, hundreds of troops backed by armour stormed the town of Babila, where Free Syrian Army rebels were entrenched, it added.

A raid by security forces on Al-Qazzaz district of southeast Damascus, in which troops rounded up dozens of suspected militants, sparked clashes with rebels, the Observatory said.

In Syria’s commercial capital Aleppo in the north, one rebel was killed in clashes with the army in the embattled Salaheddin district, and fighting was also reported in nearby Izaa, the Observatory said.

It also reported heavy shelling of rebel-held areas in the Salaheddin and Tarik al-Bab districts.

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, the Observatory said.

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

At least 61 people, mostly civilians, were killed nationwide, according to an initial toll by the Observatory, which obtains its information from activists, doctors and other sources on the ground.

In another grisly find of the almost 18-month revolt against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, residents recovered 45 bodies in two towns on the outskirts of Damascus, the group said.

It said at least 23 bodies, including those of women and children, were found in the eastern suburb of Zamalka on Thursday, while another 22 were discovered in Qatana southeast of the capital.

Opposition activists blamed pro-government forces for the Zamalka killings, accusing the regime of a “new massacre.”

On Friday, the bodies of 16 men were found in Harasta, also in Damascus province, some bearing signs of torture, the Observatory said.

The conflict in Syria has claimed a total of more than 26,000 lives since it erupted in mid-March 2011, according to Observatory figures, with civilians accounting for most of those killed.

European Union foreign ministers meeting in nearby Cyprus on Friday called for a massive boost in aid to Syrian civilians amid mounting fears the humanitarian crisis could impact Europe.

As Brussels announced an extra 50 million euros ($63 million) for civilians trapped in the conflict, the EU ministers opened a two-day meeting in the Cypriot resort of Paphos, barely 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Syria.

“Humanitarian needs are rising rapidly,” warned British Foreign Secretary William Hague. “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, likely to be distributed through NGOs, brings the EU contribution in all to 200 million euros, half of all international help.

It is aimed at reaching the 200,000 refugees massed in neighbours Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq as well as the 1.2 million people displaced inside Syria by the conflict.

Hague said in a letter seen by AFP that was sent to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton ahead of the talks that the bloc needed to play a bigger role in resolving the Syrian crisis.

His counterparts from France and Italy, Laurent Fabius and Giulio Terzi, said in a separate message that the crisis was at “a turning-point” and that “Syria matters above all to Europe”.

Should the EU fail to help resolve the crisis, Europe’s security could be threatened from problems ranging from terror, arms proliferation and illegal immigration to energy security, they warned.

Europe’s answer to the challenge thrown up by potential migration flows and asylum seekers was to help countries such as Turkey and Jordan host the refugees on Syria’s border, the ministers said.

France was expected to urge its partners at Friday’s talks to find ways to help funnel medicines, cash and other resources to civilians trapped in rebel-held areas.

Britain reiterated that no EU country would provide weapons given the bloc’s agreement to slap an embargo on delivery of arms both to Assad’s regime and its opponents.

“Our chosen route — it’s the same route for France and the United States — is to give non lethal assistance,” Hague said, adding that London had sent communications equipment and water purification kits to some opposition groups.