Beirut – At least 14 people were killed in Syria's capital Wednesday morning when two explosive devices detonated on a military bus in one of the deadliest attacks to hit Damascus in years, according to the Syrian official news agency SANA.
At 6:45 a.m. local time, two bombs attached to the bus exploded as it crossed the usually bustling President Hafez al-Assad Bridge in central Damascus. A third device had fallen off and was later found and dismantled, SANA reported.
Footage shared by the news agency showed a charred husk of the small military bus after it had been doused with water. At least three people were wounded in the blast.
It was not immediately clear whether all the dead and wounded were military personnel.
It was the deadliest such incident in the capital since 2017, when at least 30 were killed in an Islamic State attack on the Justice Palace. The capital has enjoyed relative calm in the years before and since, while war raged on in the rest of the country as President Bashar al-Assad has tried to wrest control back from different groups, including a U.S.-backed Kurdish group, various rebel formations and armed Islamist organizations.
The attack was claimed by a group called Saraya Qasiyoun, which appears to have first surfaced two years ago when it took responsibility for targeting two security forces in Damascus. Since then, the group has claimed several attacks on Syrian army personnel, intelligence security outposts and pro-government militants.
In a statement shared on a Telegram channel that appeared to be its official method of communication, the group said it will continue its operations inside government-held areas "in response to the daily massacres that the regime and its militias commit against our people in the freed north."
About an hour after the attack in Damascus, local media in the northern rebel-held pocket of Idlib reported intense artillery shelling on a residential area in the town of Ariha. Salem Abdan, the head of Idlib's health directorate, said in a text message that at least 13 people had been killed, including three children. The Syrian American Medical Society, which supports hospitals in the province, said that at least 21 people wounded in the shelling were being treated at Idlib Central Hospital.
Juliette Touma, UNICEF's Middle East spokeswoman, said the organization had confirmed that four children were killed in the shelling while they were on their way to school.
The rebel-held northwest corner of the country hosts millions of Syrians displaced from the rest of the country and has witnessed a surge of violence and attacks over the summer. A fragile cease-fire between rebels and the Syrian government has been interrupted by repeated bouts of violence, and fears of a larger military confrontation loom, especially after two Turkish soldiers were killed and three injured in an attack in Idlib last month.
Turkey, Syria's northern neighbor, has supported anti-Assad rebels and maintains military observer posts in Idlib. Last year, Turkish troops helped deter a Syrian government offensive aimed at recapturing the province.
Photos of the artillery attack on Ariha circulated on social media, with one garnering immediate attention: two motionless boys in bloodied clothes, one with an arm missing and his leg twisted unnaturally, the other lying on his side clutching his bloodstained stomach with a green backpack still hugging his back.
Local opposition media reported the attack was on a market, as children were on their way to school. It is unclear if the shelling was related to the attack in Damascus.
In a statement, Syria's Minister of Interior vowed to find those who had carried out the Damascus bombing, which he said "took place after terrorism had been kicked out from most of Syrian lands. Those who resorted to and planned this cowardly [attack] wanted to hurt as big a number of citizens as possible."
It remains unclear if any civilians were hurt or killed, but the bombs exploded while the bus was driving over a central bridge, around the corner from the Four Seasons Hotel, a semi-permanent home for many of the U.N. employees in Damascus.
The Washington Post