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15 Aug, 2012 06:29

Explosion near UN monitors' HQ in Damascus

Three were wounded when a bomb exploded on Wednesday 10 meters away from the Damas Rose hotel in Damascus, Syria, where UN monitors are headquartered.

None of those reported injured were believed to be UN staff.Faisal Mekdad, Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister, toured the area of the blast and said that none of the UN staff was hurt. The explosion occurred as UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos was visiting the Syrian capital, but her team is believed to be headquartered at a different hotel. The attack was targeted against UN observers, Mekdad claimed, and called on the international community to unite in rejecting this act of terrorism, RT correspondent Oksana Boyko tweeted from the scene of the bombing.“This is a criminal act that shows what kind of attacks Syria is being subjected to,” Mekdad told reporters. “Such explosions will not affect Syria … I confirm that we are with the UN and we will do all we can to guarantee their protection so that they carry out their role.”

Later in the day, shooting broke out near the Prime Minister’s office and smoke could be seen billowing from behind the Iranian embassy building in Damascus, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The country's security forces were reported to be chasing rebels who had penetrated the capital. Several opposition fighters were killed, say local media.

"FSA will carry out similar operations untill we reach Assad"

The bomb, which allegedly targeted the UN observers, was attached to a fuel tanker in the parking lot of a military compound near the hotel, Syrian state television reported. The Free Syria Army (FSA) claimed responsibility for the bombing. Al Jazeera English aired a telephone interview on Wednesday with Abu al-Noor, who claimed to be a spokesperson for the Ahfad Al Rasoul Brigade. The FSA planned the attacks for a month, al-Noor said.The FSA planted eight explosive canisters close to the Syrian military's Central Security Command, al-Noor said. The canisters were set to explode during Central Security Command’s daily meeting, which was attended by 150 high-ranking officers.“The operation was targeting the central security command in response to murders perpetrated by the security forces nationwide,” Al-Noor said, adding that the FSA will continue “to carry out similar operations in the capital until we reach [Assad] in the presidential palace.” The hotel sustained slight structural damage from the explosion, with some windows shattered. A labor union building near the hotel was also damaged, and witnesses reported seeing black smoke billowing into the sky. Armed men attempted to enter the hotel lobby but were stopped by security, Boyko said.The RT crew staying at the Damas Rose had warning shots fired at them by Syrian military personnel while attempting to film the aftermath of the explosion from the balcony of their room, RT Espanol correspondent Armen Zakharyan reported.“We are not allowed to film at the scene,” Zakharyan tweeted. “I left the hotel to take several shots and was surrounded by Syrian soldiers and escorted back.”

The blast might be used as an excuse not to extend the observer mission in Syria, an anonymous observer speculated to Zakharyan The UN mission was sent to Syria to monitor former special envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan that was aimed at ending the uprising against President Bahsar al-Assad.The head of the United Nations' observers' mission in Syria, Babacar Gaye, said on Monday that it was "clear" that violence was increasing in many parts of Syria: “The indiscriminate use of heavy weapons by the government and targeted attacks by the opposition in urban centers are inflicting a heavy toll on innocent civilians.”The UN's mission in Syria is due to end on August 19. Babacar said the mission would “continue to the last minute of our mandate to urge the parties to move from confrontation to dialogue.”The mission has made little progress due to the ongoing violence in the country.Kofi Annan, the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, announced his resignation from the post earlier this month, citing frustrations over a six-month effort that failed to achieve a cease-fire.Damascus has been hit by a wave of explosions in the past few months as clashes between government troops and rebels reached the capital, which had been relatively quiet since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's regime began in March last year.More than 20,000 people have been killed since then and the conflict has morphed into a full-scale civil war, activists say.