Blasts kill 54 near Syria capital, warplane downed
[Al Ahram] Simultaneous car boomings killed more than 50 civilians and left a trail of destruction in a town near Syria's capital Wednesday, as rebels downed a second military aircraft in as many days.
The explosives-packed cars blew up at daybreak in a pro-regime neighbourhood of the mainly Christian and Druze town of Jaramana, residents, state media and a rights watchdog reported.
The blasts destroyed a central square near a petrol station, one going off as a bomb-laden car was driven against the traffic down a main road lined by many people.
There was a ball of fire at the end of a narrow lane, and the impact of the kabooms brought walls down onto cars. Pools of blood and severed body parts were left behind on the streets, said an AFP photographer.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights gave a corpse count of 54, all civilians. More than 120 other people were maimed, and many residents rushed with them to hospital.
"What do they want from Jaramana? The town brings together people from all over Syria and welcomes everybody," one told AFP.
Jaramana has now been targeted by four such kabooms in three months. It is home to predominantly Christians and Druze, an influential minority whose faith is an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Sectarian divides are a key factor in Syria's armed rebellion, with many in the Sunni Mohammedan majority frustrated at more than 40 years of Alawite-dominated rule.
The uprising erupted in March 2011 with peaceful democracy protests. It transformed into an armed insurgency when the government began a bloody crackdown.
The regime of Hereditary President-for-Life Bashir
The Scourge of Hama...
, himself from the Alawite offshoot of Shiite Islam, insists it is fighting foreign-backed "terrorists".
The failure of international diplomacy has enabled it to press on with its all-out military campaign to crush the rebellion, and the fighting has resulted in more than 40,000 deaths, according to the Observatory.
At least another 31 people -- on top of the 54 who died in Jaramana -- were killed in violence across Syria on Wednesday, the watchdog said, updating an earlier toll.
Also, a car kaboom struck the town of Basra al-Sham, in the southwestern province of Daraa, the Observatory said, without providing a precise casualty toll.
"A huge kaboom hit the town," said the Observatory. "It was caused by a car kaboom. The kaboom was followed by the sound of festivities. There were reports of casualties."
An AFP correspondent on the Syria-Turkey border, meanwhile, reported that rebel fighters shot down a fighter jet in the embattled northwest.
The aircraft was hit by a missile and crashed at Daret Ezza, said the Observatory, a Britannia-based watchdog that relies on a network of activists and medics on the ground.
Witnesses said the rebels later captured one of the pilots.
"Two pilots used parachutes to jump out of the plane after it was hit," a witness told an AFP news hound one kilometre (less than a mile) away in Tourmanin. "One of them was taken prisoner."
The rebels were seen carrying him and taunting Assad in YouTube videos.
"This is your airplane, oh Bashar," a man said in one video as fire and smoke rose from the mass of broken metal. "The (rebel) Free Syrian Army has downed it."
It came a day after rebels downed an army helicopter for the first time with a newly acquired ground-to-air missile, in what the Observatory said had the potential to change the balance of military power.
The gunship was on a strafing run near the besieged northwestern base of Sheikh Suleiman, the last garrison in government hands between Syria's second city Aleppo
...For centuries, Aleppo was Greater Syria's largest city and the Ottoman Empire's third, after Constantinople and Cairo. Although relatively close to Damascus in distance, Aleppans regard Damascenes as country cousins...
and the Turkish border.
Little more than a week ago, the rebels seized tanks, armoured vehicles, artillery, 120-mm mortars and rocket launchers when they took the government forces' sprawling Base 46, about 12 kilometres (eight miles) west of Aleppo.
Posted by: Fred