Bomb explosion rocks Damascus UN hotel
A bomb exploded in central Damascus on Wednesday near several military buildings and a hotel housing UN observers, wounding three people and sending a pillar of black smoke into the sky above the Syrian capital.
No UN staff were hurt in the blast, which occurred exactly four weeks after a bomb killed four of Bashar al-Assad's top security officials, including his brother-in-law.
The Syrian deputy foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad, told reporters at the scene that the bombing proved "the criminal and barbaric nature of those who carry out these attacks – and their backers in and abroad".
Firefighters were dousing a fuel tanker set ablaze when the bomb detonated at 8.30am local time in a car park behind the hotel. Ash and dust covered white UN vehicles parked nearby.
The UN emergency relief co-ordinator, Valerie Amos, on a mission to seek more access for aid deliveries, was meeting EU officials in Damascus when the bomb exploded.
Although the explosion occurred close to the hotel, its target was not clear. The area is home to a Syrian army officers' club and a building belonging to the ruling Ba'ath party. It is also not far from the army command.
Groups calling themselves The Descendants of the Prophet Brigade and the al-Habib al-Mustafa Brigade said on a Facebook page they were jointly responsible for the bombing, which they said had killed 50 soldiers. Competing rebel groups often claim attacks and it is usually unclear who was actually behind them.
Assad's troops launched a successful counter-offensive last month against insurgents who seized several districts of Damascus. They are still trying to dislodge rebels from swathes of Aleppo, Syria's biggest city and its economic capital.
More than 160 people, including 105 civilians, were killed across Syria on Tuesday, an opposition watchdog reported.
The violence in Syria, where opposition sources say 18,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad erupted in March last year, has divided regional and world powers.
Their disputes have nullified diplomatic peace efforts and effectively paralysed the UN security council on Syria.