Beruit – A bomb tore through a densely populated neighborhood in Damascus on Friday, killing 25 people and wounding dozens more in the second attack in the Syrian capital in two weeks, Syrian television and other state news media reported.
The reports said that the attack had been carried out by a suicide bomber at a busy intersection, and Syrian television broadcast images of a wrecked police bus, asphalt with blood and glass and the shattered windshields of other vehicles. The broadcasts described the blast as “a powerful explosion” in Midan, a neighborhood that has been restive, and said that civilians and security force personnel had been killed and wounded.
Syrian television put the number of wounded at 46.
Though no one claimed responsibility for the carnage, the bombings on Friday and in December seem to mark a potentially new chapter in the uprising against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. While many protests across the country remain peaceful, the uprising itself has become more violent in past months, with a growing armed insurgency.
The bombings themselves recall another revolt in the late 1970s and 1980s that posed a sweeping challenge to the rule of Mr. Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad.
The sound of ambulance and police car sirens could be heard on Friday as government forces poured into the Midan neighborhood on Friday, residents in Damascus said. In the chaotic aftermath of the attack, residents in nearby neighborhoods said that security forces and paramilitaries had gone on what some of them described as a rampage, shooting, beating and arresting people in the streets.
“I just saw a guy being smacked and hit on the head with sticks,” said a 19-year-old student who gave her name as Amana and who was visiting a friend in the nearby neighborhood of Kafr Souseh at the time. “You have no idea how I feel right now.”
In another nearby locale, a 57-year-old resident described a similar scene, as government paramilitaries known as shabeeha moved through the streets around noon.
“I don’t know what’s happening today,” he said. “We heard about the explosion, but right now shabeeha and security are shooting and arresting young men randomly.”
As he spoke by phone, he said he could see someone being arrested from his window.
“Oh, my merciful God!” he started shouting.
The attack came exactly two weeks after the other bombing in Damascus, which killed 44 people. In the prevailing climate in the capital, where suspicions of any party’s intentions run rife, state news media blamed “terrorists,” and a spokesman for an insurgent group suggested that the government carried out the attack to sully the opposition’s image.
“We’re expecting more of these bombings in the coming days,” said Col. Ammar al-Wawi, a Syrian Army defector who works with an insurgent group called the Free Syrian Army and was reached by phone. “This regime is seeking to spread chaos in Syria.”
The Syrian state news agency, SANA, said the attacks “had the fingerprints of al-Qaeda all over them” and cast them as another escalation in what the government has consistently described as an armed uprising by Islamists funded from abroad.
The attack came ahead of weekly protests that seem to have gathered increased momentum since the arrival of an observer mission from the Arab League in December. Many protesters have expressed anger that the mission did little to stem the bloodshed, and the demonstrations were expected to call for the Arab League to shift responsibility for the monitoring of human rights violations to the United Nations.
The Local Coordination Committees, an opposition group that helps organize and document protests, said that at least 19 people were killed in protests on Friday.