DAMASCUS – Bomb attacks in Damascus and southern Syria killed at least 16 people Wednesday, a day after Russia and the United States failed to announce a date for proposed peace talks.
In Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said Russia was ready to host informal talks between Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime and the opposition. Russian and U.S. officials Tuesday failed to agree a date for a proposed peace conference in Geneva that has been delayed multiple times.
On the ground in Syria, at least eight people were killed and 50 wounded in Damascus by a blast in 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 Britain-based 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-Qaida loyalists meanwhile seized control of the nearby Aleppo power plant, raising fears they could cut electricity to government-held parts of the city.
To the east, in the city of Raqa, the only provincial capital under rebel control, the Observatory said jihadists had executed a doctor after accusing him of spying for Turkish intelligence. They also decapitated a statue depicting a male and female peasant, known locally as the Statue of Liberty, said the Observatory, which takes its information from activists and doctors on the ground.
Assad told a visiting Algerian delegation Wednesday that Syria was facing a battle against “terrorism” similar to the devastating conflict that Algeria 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,” Assad said.
The decade-long Algerian civil war, which killed around 200,000 people, according to official figures, erupted after the army intervened in 1991 to cancel elections that the Islamic Salvation Front was poised to win, prompting many Islamists to take up arms.
The latest upsurge of violence in Syria came a day after Washington and Moscow failed to announce a date for proposed peace talks.
U.N.-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi told reporters in Geneva he was still hopeful the conference could be held by year’s end. The United States and Russia have been pushing for peace talks in Geneva for months, but Brahimi said divisions within the Syrian opposition were a persistent obstacle.
The main opposition umbrella group, the Syrian National Coalition, hit back Wednesday, accusing Brahimi of seeking to blame it for his failure to convene the conference. It urged the envoy to “adhere to neutrality” in his mediation efforts.
Much of the opposition insists on Assad’s departure as a precondition for any peace conference, something the Syrian government rejects.
More than 120,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising against Assad’s rule erupted in March 2011.