Bomb attacks in Damascus and southern Syria have left at least 16 people dead, as the Syrian opposition hit back at claims it is hindering efforts to hold a peace conference.
Syria’s key opposition National Coalition on Wednesday urged UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to “adhere to neutrality”, accusing him of blaming the divided opposition for new delays to peace talks.
The Coalition’s statement came a day after Brahimi said intensive talks in Geneva had failed to set a date for a mooted peace conference. He cited the lack of “a credible delegation” from the Syrian opposition as a stumbling block.
On the ground in Syria, at least eight people were killed and 50 wounded in Damascus by a blast in the central Hijaz Square, state news agency SANA reported.
“Eight citizens, including two women, were killed in an explosion caused by a bomb placed by terrorists at the entrance to the Hijaz railroad company,” it said.
And in the southern city of Sweida, eight intelligence officers were killed when a suicide bomber blew up a vehicle outside their base, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The city is a bastion of the Druze minority and under regime control.
SANA also reported the attack, citing a police source who said “eight citizens” were killed and 41 wounded.
In central Homs province, the Observatory reported that rebels had seized part of a key arms depot after a two-week assault.
The rebels “seized a large amount of weapons” from the sprawling complex outside the town of Mahin, the group said.
But a regime security official denied the report, saying: “The battle is continuing. The terrorists did not take any weapons, and there are many losses in their ranks.”
The Observatory reported that more than 50 rebels and 20 government loyalists were killed in fighting for the base on Tuesday alone.
Farther north, government troops recaptured most of the strategic town of Tal Aran, south of Aleppo, in another boost to their efforts to consolidate a supply route to Syria’s main northern city after their capture of nearby Sfeirah last week.
But Al-Qaeda loyalists have seized control of the nearby Aleppo power plant, raising fears they could cut electricity to government-held parts of the city.
President Bashar al-Assad told a visiting Algerian delegation on Wednesday that Syria was facing a battle against “terrorism” similar to the devastating conflict that the North African nation itself faced in the 1990s.
“The Algerian people’s position on the Syrian conflict is not surprising, considering they had to undergo a challenge that was similar to the Syrian people’s, which is currently facing terrorism,” he said.
The decade-long Algerian civil war, which killed 200,000 people according to official figures, erupted after the army intervened in 1991 to cancel elections the Islamic Salvation Front was poised to win, prompting many Islamists to take up arms.
The latest upsurge of violence in Syria comes as proposed peace talks were again delayed, although Brahimi said he hoped they could still be held by the end of the year.
The United States and Russia have been pushing for peace talks in Geneva for month, but Brahimi said divisions within the Syrian opposition were a persistent obstacle — triggering reaction from Assad regime opponents.
“The Syrian National Coalition confirms that the mission of the joint UN-Arab League envoy — as understood by the Syrian people — is to seek to achieve their legitimate aspirations and lift their suffering, or to remain neutral at the very least,” the Coalition said a statement.
Much of the opposition insists on Assad’s departure as a precondition for any peace conference, something Damascus rejects.
In Russia, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said Moscow was ready to host informal talks between Assad’s regime and the opposition.
More than 120,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising against Assad’s rule erupted in March 2011.