The rebel campaign to strike the Syrian regime where it hurts the most—the heart of its military power in central Damascus—seemed to intensify today as explosions rocked the military’s headquarters in the capital.
At least two large blasts were reported at the site of the headquarters in the heavily secured area of Umayyad Square, with plumes of smoke billowing from the building for hours afterward. As residents described the sounds of gunfire and ambulance sirens echoing in the aftermath of the attack, the rebels and regime took to the media with competing claims over its toll. Syrian state television said that four guards had been killed and 14 people had been wounded, according to the Associated Press, which reported that two car bombs had struck the headquarters. Rebels reportedly said that dozens of people had been killed, though there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
Regardless of the casualty numbers, the attack appeared to achieve an objective that rebels in Damascus have painted as a priority—showing that they can threaten key members of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime even in the areas it considers most secure.
“This means that our revolutionaries are able to get to areas where nobody is supposed to be able to go,” says Anwar Saadedine, a defected general now working with the rebel military council. “You might hear of more bombings within the next day, within the next two days, within the next hour. Any military site is a target.”
Today’s explosion was the latest in a string of high-profile attacks targeting the regime’s military brass. In mid-July, a bomb ripped through a meeting of the regime’s crisis-management cell, killing four members of Assad’s inner circle, and seeming to momentarily swing momentum toward the rebels. In recent weeks, they have seemed increasingly determined to recapture that success.
Earlier this month, a blast targeted the headquarters of the Syrian Army’s joint chiefs of staff—and the rebels who claimed responsibility then said the attack was just a preview of more to come. “These operations are very cheap, and they hit the regime where it hurts the most,” a spokesman for the Ahfad al-Rasoul Brigade said at the time.
The same brigade said it was behind a blast yesterday that hit a school the rebels claim was being used as a base by Syrian forces and regime-loyal militiamen. In a statement, the brigade said the bombings would continue, calling them “revenge” for the deaths of rebels and civilians in the regime’s crackdown against an 18-month-old uprising.
“This is only going to get worse for the regime,” an Ahfad al-Rasoul spokesman using the name Mattar Ismail says.
As much as casualty numbers, rebels seem determined to use attacks like today’s to wreak a psychological toll on the regime. “It’s like a nerve war—like propaganda to get them scared and get them to defect,” a Damascus rebel involved in the July bombing said in an interview earlier this month. “To get them thinking: Maybe we’re going to be killed.”