Damascus: 14 killed in rare bomb attack on Damascus army bus

DAMASCUS: A bomb attack on an army bus in Damascus killed 14 people on Wednesday in the bloodiest attack of its kind in the Syrian capital in four years, the state news agency SANA reported.
There was no immediate claim for the shelling, but moments later shelling by government forces killed eight people in the Idlib region controlled by groups that have denounced such an attack in the past.
“A terrorist attack with two explosive devices targeted a passing bus” on a key bridge in the capital, the news agency said, reporting that 14 people were killed and at least three injured.
Images released by SANA showed first responders searching the charred corpse of the bus and what the news agency said was a bomb squad defusing a third device placed in the same area.
A military source quoted by the state agency said the bomb had been placed on the bus itself and detonated as it passed near the Hafez al-Assad bridge, near the national museum in the heart of the capital.
Damascus had largely escaped such violence in recent years, especially since troops and allied militia retaken the last major rebel stronghold near the capital in 2018.
The attack is the deadliest in the capital since a bomb attack claimed by the jihadist group Islamic State against the Palace of Justice in March 2017, killing at least 30 people.
About an hour after the Damascus attack, Syrian regime shelling struck the war-torn city of Ariha in the northwestern Idlib region.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the rockets landed in a crowded area as the children were on their way to school.
Among the dead were three children, the Britain-based war watchdog group said.
An AFP reporter saw at least five bodies as first responders treated the injured and scenes of chaos filled the streets of Ariha.
“At 8 am (0500 GMT) we woke up to the shelling. The children were terrified and were screaming,” said Bilal Trissi, a father of two who lives nearby.
“We didn’t know what to do or where to go and we didn’t see anything because of all the dust around us,” he told AFP.
“They bombed us in our neighborhood and in the market. There are children who died and people who lost their limbs … We don’t know why, what are we guilty of?”
The bombing of Damascus will challenge the government’s claim that the decade-long war is over and stability is guaranteed for reconstruction efforts and investment projects to begin in earnest.
The government of President Bashar al-Assad has struggled to break out of international isolation and has been making progress in recent months.
The conflict that erupted with the brutal crackdown on unarmed protests demanding regime change in 2011 has left around half a million dead, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
It also led to the largest conflict-induced displacement since World War II, with half of Syria’s pre-war population of 22 million forced to flee their homes at one point.
Assad’s position was once tied to a thread, with his forces and his allies controlling just a fifth of Syrian territory, but Russia’s military intervention in 2015 marked the beginning of a long and bloody struggle.
Also backed by Iran and its proxy militias, government forces have recaptured nearly every key city in the country, and US-backed Kurdish forces continue to run the northeast.
The once-sprawling Islamic State caliphate, which stretched to both sides of Iraq and Syria, was inexorably reduced until his death, which reached eastern Syria in early 2019.
Since then, the main focus of the Syrian government has been the northwestern region of Idlib, where many of the rebels forced to surrender in other parts of the country have gathered.
The area is dominated by the jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which includes leaders of the former Al-Qaeda franchise in Syria and over which Turkey has some influence.
However, HTS has not reported attacks in Damascus in years.
The remnants of the Islamic State in eastern Syria have gone underground, but continue to harass the government and allied forces, mainly in desert areas, in hit-and-run attacks.
A truce deal brokered by Turkey and Russia, the two main foreign players in the Syrian conflict, has effectively put the fighting in Idlib on hold.
However, sporadic outbreaks have kept the region on the brink, and the Ariha bombing on Wednesday was one of the gravest violations of the truce agreement.
Assad insists that he remains committed to reconquering all the territory lost to the rebels at the beginning of the war, including the Idlib region.

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