DAMASCUS: Twin blasts near army headquarters rocked the Syrian capital early Wednesday after Qatar called for an Arab intervention against Bashar al-Assad’s regime and a no-fly zone to protect refugees.
The early morning explosions set off a blaze in Damascus’s closely guarded Umayyad Square district as the Syrian opposition’s foreign backers ramped up calls for Assad’s exit at the UN General Assembly in New York.
The latest calls for Assad to step down by US President Barack Obama and other Western leaders came as another 100 civilians were killed Tuesday in intense fighting across the country, according to activists.
Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, urged Arab action in the war-torn state because of the failure of the UN Security Council and other international efforts to end the conflict.
“It is better for Arab countries themselves to intervene out of their humanitarian, political and military duties and do what is necessary to stop the bloodshed,” Sheikh Hamad told the General Assembly.
Earlier, Qatar’s prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani, told CNN that there was a “Plan B” for ending the 18-month-old conflict.
“You need to make safe haven areas, first of all,” he said. “That would require a no-fly zone.
“If the Syrians want to break that, that’s another subject. We need somebody to have the teeth to tell them ‘don’t do that’, because that will not be allowed.” French President Francois Hollande said the United Nations should protect “liberated zones” under opposition control to help civilians and refugees.
The explosions early Wednesday went off a few hundred metres (yards) apart, sending huge columns of smoke billowing over the area and shattering windows hundreds of metres away, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
There was no immediate word on casualties from the explosions near the headquarters of the army general staff, the Britain-based group said.
Elsewhere in the country, a military official told AFP on Tuesday that government forces had retaken the Aleppo rebel district of Arkoub and were conducting door-to-door raids to hunt down rebels.
Syrian television aired footage of soldiers patrolling Arkoub, where high-rise buildings were shelled out and rubble lined the streets.
The Observatory insisted that clashes in Arkoub had not ceased and an AFP correspondent heard machinegun fire in the area.
The activist group said at least 114 people had been killed Tuesday. Activists say more than 29,000 have died since the Arab Spring-inspired uprising against Assad started in March 2011.
At the UN assembly, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on the Security Council to “solidly and concretely” support the peace efforts of UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who has stated there will be no quick solution.
The 15-nation council is hopelessly deadlocked, with Russia and China resisting international action on the war.
Obama, meanwhile, delivered a blistering attack on Assad in his speech to the UN assembly.
“The regime of Bashar al-Assad must come to an end so that the suffering of the Syrian people can stop, and a new dawn can begin,” he said.
A State Department official later told AFP that the United States is set to unveil more aid for the Syrian opposition this week, but stressed the supplies will still not include weapons or ammunition.
“We’ve been clear about our assistance and the type of assistance we are providing and that is going to continue,” the official said, after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met peace envoy Brahimi.
Clinton also met with Iraqi Vice President Khudayr al-Khuzaie and urged Baghdad to deliver on pledges to stop Iranian overflights of its territory, which Washington fears are ferrying weapons to the regime.
Aid agencies say there is a mounting humanitarian crisis, with more than 2.5 million people now needing aid in the country.
Save the Children released a poignant account of the suffering of Syrian children who are being “badly traumatised” after witnessing killing and experiencing torture.
The report, entitled “Untold Atrocities,” gives first-hand accounts from children and parents who fled the violence, and contains graphic details of how youngsters have been caught up in the war.
Seven people were wounded on Tuesday when explosions targeted an army administration building in Damascus, according to state media.
Reports from the battlefield said that regime defector Colonel Kassem Saadeddine, a Free Syrian Army commander in the central province of Homs, escaped an assassination attempt.
Saadeddine’s convoy was ambushed by pro-regime militia in Salmiyeh, north of Homs, rebel spokesman Fahd al-Masri told AFP. Agencies