Today a pair of bombs hit an upscale area of central Damascus that houses the headquarters of the Syrian military’s joint chiefs of staff—and rebel officials tell The Daily Beast that the blasts show they can bring the fight to Bashar al-Assad’s regime even in the areas it considers most secure.
Syrian officials have said that the blasts injured four people and appeared to target a building near the headquarters that was under construction and empty at the time, according to The Associated Press. But Mufa Hamze, the vice president of the Damascus military council for the rebel Free Syrian Army, claimed in an interview with The Daily Beast that the bombs had been planted inside the headquarters itself—and that the attack was in retaliation for recent mass killings reported in the Damascus suburb of Daraya.
“The bombs were inside the building,” he said, and added that though he had no casualty reports, he believed a number of senior officers were present at the time of the attack.
“These officers were involved in the massacre, and they felt no remorse for the loss of Syrian blood,” he said. “It was revenge.”
Hamze’s account could not be confirmed. It was supported by Riad al-Asaad, the top commander for the FSA. “This was done with the help of someone on the inside,” Asaad told The Daily Beast.
Rula Jebreal and Richard Cohen on the future of Syria.
Whatever the truth behind the blasts, the rebels seem to be intent on striking a similar blow to the one dealt by a Damascus bombing that killed four members of Assad’s inner circle in July. Then, the bomb was reportedly detonated inside the national security headquarters during a meeting of senior officials there.
Ahmed Kassem, an FSA organizer and former Damascus-based political activist, said today’s bombings were meant to send the same message. “It’s a slap to the regime, just like before,” he said. “It means that we are able to get to you—to get to any area or any person that we need to get to. All of you are going to be brought to justice. And very soon you’re going to see a lot of surprises.”
The July bombing punctuated a rebel push that also featured offensives inside Damascus and Aleppo, Syria’s two main cities. But amid a fierce regime crackdown featuring airstrikes and heavy artillery, the rebels have seemed to be on the back foot in recent weeks, getting pushed from neighborhoods like Daraya as residents brace for retaliation by the regime. Today’s bombing follows a series of strikes on military targets in recent days in what appears, at least in part, to be a campaign to regain the initiative in the ongoing fight.
In a Facebook statement claiming responsibility for today’s bombings, Ahfad al-Rasul, an FSA brigade, said that even the presidential palace was now a target for the rebels. Ismail Matar, a spokesman for the brigade, told The Daily Beast that the rebels had paid officers from the regime to plant the bombs. “This mission was accomplished with the help of officers who sold the regime for a very cheap price,” he said.
Regime sources have put forward a competing version of today’s events. Initial reports from Syrian state television referred to the bombings as a “terrorist attack” and said only that they took place “in Al-Mehdi Street in the Abu Remmaneh district,” the area where the joint chiefs headquarters is located, according to Al Arabiya. Four Syrian officers were injured in the blasts, the reports said.
In the Associated Press report, Syrian government officials said the blasts had damaged a building that “was empty at the time of the blast [and] serves as a base for army officers who guard the joint chiefs of staff offices, which are located some 200 meters (yards) away.”
An activist in Damascus who goes by the name Alexia Jade said smoke could be seen rising from the site of the bombings, but that details remained vague. The mood among residents, though, was of upheaval and unease. “Some people are excited, and those who support the regime are scared,” she says. “And some are apprehensive about what comes next. In other words: what will be the payback for this?”