- Associated Press - Sunday, September 30, 2012

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — A suicide attacker in a parked car blew himself up in an area housing security offices in northeastern Syria on Sunday, killing at least four people, state media said.

Syrian state television and SANA, the country’s official news agency, also said scores were wounded in the midafternoon blast in Qamishli, 435 miles from the capital, Damascus. The agency said the explosion, which also damaged nearby buildings, was carried out by a “terrorist suicide bomber.”

Activists put the death toll at eight and said it was expected to rise because 15 people sustained “serious wounds.” The blast targeted a police station in the city, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

An amateur video posted online by opposition activists showed a column of white smoke rising between buildings in Qamishli.

The explosion came hours after activists said fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces killed at least five people in the embattled northern city of Aleppo. The dead included a man who had been shot by a sniper near the city’s medieval citadel. Several homes were also destroyed in the violence, it said.

The country’s commercial capital and largest city, Aleppo is home to some 3 million people and was once a bastion of support for President Bashar Assad. But the city has been hit by fierce fighting since rebels launched an offensive there in July.

The news agency said Mr. Assad’s troops have carried out a “successful operation” in western Aleppo against “terrorist gatherings” — a reference to the fighting trying to topple the regime. SANA said several rebels had been killed or wounded in the violence, but it gave no other details.

On Saturday, a fire sparked by battles between Mr. Assad’s troops and rebels tore through Aleppo’s centuries-old covered market, one of the best-preserved bazaars in the Middle East. It was the worst blow yet to the city’s historic center and to a UNESCO World Heritage site in Syria.

The heightened violence in Aleppo drew criticism from the city’s industrialists of “insufficient” government protection provided to factories and other businesses in the area.

Fares al-Shihabi, head of Aleppo’s Chamber of Industry, told Syria‘s pro-government al-Watan daily that several previous calls on the government for increased protection against “daily armed attacks” on industrial estates “have gone unanswered.”

In response, the chamber was forced to hire guards around the clock to protect businesses against looters, he added.

Rami Martini, chief of Aleppo’s Chamber of Tourism, warned of the vulnerability of tourist sites in the area. He told al-Watan that the violence in Aleppo has “dealt a blow in every sense of the word” to the country’s tourism sector.

The Aleppo market, a major tourist attraction with its narrow stone alleys and stores selling perfume, fabrics and spices, had been the site of occasional gunbattles and shelling for weeks. But amateur video posted Saturday showed wall-to-wall flames engulfing wooden doors as burning debris fell away from the storefronts. Activists said hundreds of shops were affected.

The souk is one of a half-dozen renowned cultural sites in Syria that have become collateral damage in the civil war.

The rebels launched a renewed offensive on Aleppo last week, sparking intense fighting in the city.

An amateur video posted by activists Sunday showed night fighting in Aleppo.

“We want to liberate the city from these shabiha,” a man says in the background, referring to Syria‘s pro-Assad militiamen. In the video, what appears to be a rebel fighter fires projectiles from the cover of a hillside to the shouts of “God is Great” from others nearby.

Another video showed Syrian warplanes flying over Aleppo and heavy smoke rising from the city’s skyline.

Syria imposes tight restrictions on foreign reporters, and the authenticity of these videos could not be verified independently.

Also Sunday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged Syria‘s allies to stop backing the Assad regime.

“We call on Russia, China and Iran, please review your stance,” Mr. Erdogan told a conference of his ruling Justice and Development Party.

“History will not forgive those who stand together with cruel regimes,” Mr. Erdogan said.

Turkey once had close ties with Damascus, but since the Syrian uprising began, Ankara has emerged as one of the strongest foreign backers of the Syrian opposition. Turkey has given shelter to tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, and Turkish soil has served as a crucial logistical center for rebel fighters since they captured several Syrian border crossings with Turkey over the summer.

Associated Press writers Albert Aji in Damascus, Karin Laub in Beirut and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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