Middle East

UN Security Council condemns Syria suicide attacks

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Media captionThe BBC's Jim Muir: "State TV... are showing scenes of great devastation"

The UN Security Council has condemned suicide car bombings in Syria's capital Damascus, which officials say killed 44 people and injured more than 150.

The 15-member council said all acts of terrorism were unjustified.

But it remained deeply divided over continuing protests in Syria, failing to adopt a resolution on the issue.

Syria has blamed Friday's attacks on al-Qaeda, but the opposition has said they were staged by the government to justify its crackdown on protesters.

The explosions occurred a day after Arab League observers arrived in Syria.

They are tasked with monitoring whether the government complies with a peace agreement that orders all troops to withdraw from the streets, with the aim of ending the violence.

But human rights and opposition activists said the killings continued on Friday, with security forces shooting dead at least 12 civilians.

The government of President Bashar al-Assad says it is fighting armed gangs.

More than 5,000 people have been killed and thousands more detained since anti-government protests erupted in March, the UN says.

The claims have not been independently verified, as most foreign media are banned from reporting in Syria.

'Insufficient' resolution

On Friday, the UN Security Council issued a statement condemning the twin bombings, which targeted two security service bases in Damascus' Kafr Sousa area.

The council sent condolences to the relatives of the victims - not to the government, which is the usual practice.

But members were unable to agree on a statement proposed by Russia, which welcomed the deployment of Arab League monitors and called for maximum restraint from both government forces and the opposition.

Western states said it was not balanced because it did not refer to human rights abuses by the Syrian government.

The UN body also remained deeply divided over a revised draft resolution on Syria proposed by Russia.

Western diplomats said the draft - which did not mention any sanctions - did not engage seriously with their amendments for tougher language on government violence and human rights issues.

Germany's UN envoy Peter Wittig described the proposed document as "insufficient".

But his Russian colleague Vitaly Churkin accused the West of suggesting changes that radically altered the text and backed a Western agenda of regime change in Syria.

In this atmosphere it seems only a clear call for action from the Arab League will create momentum in the council, and that is not likely to happen before the observer mission has been given a chance, the BBC's Barbara Plett at the UN headquarters in New York reports.

'Al-Qaeda infiltration'

Friday's two explosions happened within minutes of each other on Friday morning.

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Media captionSyria's Foreign Minister Jihad al-Makdissi: "Where is the West's condemnation of the suicide bombings?"

Within minutes, state TV said two attacks had been carried out by suicide bombers driving vehicles packed with explosives against the General Security Directorate and another branch of the security services in the upmarket Kfar Sousa district, south-west of the city centre.

"Preliminary investigations showed al-Qaeda was responsible," it added.

Video footage was broadcast of heavily damaged buildings, with rescue workers combing through burnt buildings and blood-stained debris, and ambulances taking the injured away.

The state-owned news channel, al-Ikhbariya al-Suriya, said the first car bomb exploded outside the offices of an unspecified security agency.

When guards at a nearby compound housing the General Security Directorate went to inspect the aftermath of the first blast, the driver of another vehicle rammed the main gates and detonated the bomb it was carrying, the channel said.

"The explosions shook the house, it was frightful," Nidal Hamidi, a Syrian journalist who lives in Kfar Sousa, told the Associated Press news agency.

Gunfire was heard immediately following the explosion and windows up to 200m (670ft) away were shattered, Mr Hamidi said.

Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told reporters: "On the first day after the arrival of the Arab observers, this is the gift we get from the terrorists and al-Qaeda.

"But we are going to do all we can to facilitate the Arab League mission."

The US state department condemned the blasts in Damascus but said they should not deter the Arab League observers from doing their work.

But the Syrian Revolution General Commission - a coalition of 40 opposition grassroots groups - accused the government of fabricating the attacks and urged the Arab League observers to investigate.

With a solid security presence, Damascus has largely escaped the violence and protests that have flared in central and northern provinces, although there have been protests in suburbs.

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