April 29, 2013
By Ahmed Kwider
A car bomb exploded at 9 am on Monday in the upscale Mazzeh district in Damascus, an attack which the government claims was aimed at the convoy of Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi.
As the deaths of the prime minister’s driver and personal bodyguard, NaserYousef Othman, were confirmed by the pro-revolution Sham News Network (SNN), opposition figures and media outlets were quick to label the blast a staged conspiracy, citing FSA advances and an ongoing motivation to portray the opposition as Al-Qaeda-style jihadists.
“The FSA’s advances in Daraa have shaken the regime. Now they want the spot light on Damascus. They want to suggest that [it’s under attack] by Salafists and jihadists who came from other countries and impose a threat on the region and neighboring countries,” said Mazen al-Shami, a Damascus-based SNN correspondent.
The regime “wants to make it look as if there are foreign terrorists who work for Al-Qaeda, because they know the West fears them,” said a journalist with the pro-revolution online radio station Syria Live Network. The journalist also blamed the government for the bomb, saying “they accuse Al-Qaeda of anything they do.”
Mazen Bassel of the independent Shahed News Agency in Damascus said he believed the premier was probably not anywhere near the blast site.
A car bomb exploded at 9 am in the Western Villas in Mazzeh district, near the communication facility and Ibin Reshd Park. The bomb resulted in casualties and material damage. Government news agency SANA claims the explosion was an assassination attempt on the life of Prime Minister Dr. Wael al-Halqi. Several sources claim al-Halqi ‘s driver was killed, and a guard was severely injured. Video courtesy of Syrian News Channel.
“I tend to think al-Halqi wasn’t even in the convoy. The head of the [FSA’s] Revolutionary Council in Damascus said that al-Halqi wasn’t a target of the FSA, and they have denied responsibility for the bombing, which also killed a number of civilians,” said Bassel.
“I don’t think [Al-Halqi] was in the convoy,” said the Syria Live Network journalist.
Al-Halqi was appointed prime minister in August last year, three days after then-Prime Minister Riyad Hijab defected to Jordan. Al-Halqi is from Daraa province, and served as the head of the Baath Party in Daraa from 2000 to 2004 and then president of the Syrian Doctors’ Association in 2010 until his appointment as premier.
In recent months, he has repeatedly stated that the regime is prepared to engage in dialogue with his opponents, calling on “all those who reject terror and foreign intervention to engage in the political process and return to the homeland instead of holding press conferences.”
Government news agency SANA reported that a “terrorist explosion targeted the convoy of Prime Minister, Dr. Wael al-Halqi, [and] stressed that the premier is safe and he survived the explosion.” SANA distributed photographs of an exploded car and evacuation of at least one casualty.
Less than two hours after the explosion, state-run television aired images of al-Halqi calmly discussing policy issues with his cabinet.
“After the explosion occurred, helicopters hovered over the area and state television was there,” Susan Ahmed, a spokeswoman for the Damascus Revolutionary Command Council, posted on the organization’s Facebook page.
“Usually when the opposition targets anyone, they are not afraid to declare it. When that happens, the regime prevents anyone from going to the area,” Ahmed wrote.
Deeb al-Dimashqi, a member of the Revolutionary Leadership Council in Damascus, agrees that the government is the most likely culprit in this attack.
“There’s evidence of the regime’s involvement in the bombing, including the early arrival of state media and ambulances. Those who killed Sheikh Mohammad Said Ramadan Buti have no problem killing the prime minister,” said al-Dimashqi, referring to the March assassination of a pro-regime cleric who the opposition says was on the verge of defection.
With additional reporting by Nuha Shabaan and Jacob Wirtschafter