Qaeda-linked group claims Syria suicide attack

Residents drive motorcycles and cars to flee during fighting between rebels and government forces in the village of Kurnaz, close to the western city of Hama, on 27 January 2013. (Photo: AFP - Aamir Qureshi)

Published Monday, January 28, 2013

An al-Qaeda-linked group fighting alongside Syrian rebels claimed responsibility Monday for a suicide car bombing that reportedly killed dozens of pro-government militiamen last week.

The United Nations meanwhile Monday warned that it will not be able to help millions of war-hit Syrians without more money, and appealed for donations at an aid conference this week in Kuwait to meet its $1.5 billion target.

Islamic militants have been the most organized fighters battling government troops in the 22-month-old conflict in which more than 60,000 people have been killed.

Jabhat al-Nusra, which the United States has declared a terrorist organization for its ties to al-Qaeda, said in a statement posted online that one of its suicide bombers detonated a car bomb last Monday at the headquarters of a pro-government militia in the central province of Hama.

It said the bomber drove a truck packed with explosives to the militia's complex in the town of Salamiya and blew himself up "to give the tyrannical regime a taste" of violence it has been inflicting on the Syrian people.

The opposition said at least 42 people, mostly militiamen, were killed in the blast. The government did not say how many people were killed, although state-run SANA news agency published photographs of what it said was a funeral procession for the blast's victims on Wednesday.

In one of the photographs, a dozen men are seen standing behind 11 caskets, wrapped into a Syrian flag.

Jabhat al-Nusra has previously targeted government institutions in Damascus with suicide bombers. The suicide bombings are part of relentless violence that has engulfed Syria since the uprising began in March 2011.

On Monday, opposition sources said troops battled rebels in several towns and villages around Damascus, including in Daraya, Arbeen and Zabadani. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government forces also shelled several of the capital's suburbs.

In the north, troops clashed with rebels in al-Hasaka province along Syria's border with Turkey, the Observatory said, adding that at least 10 rebels were killed in the fighting that erupted Sunday after the opposition fighters attacked a government checkpoint.

SANA said that soldiers attacked rebels in towns in and around Daraya, Homs, Hama, Daraa, Deir Ezzor and other regions across the country.

International efforts to stop the bloodshed in Syria have repeatedly failed.

In France, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius pleaded for countries to keep their promises of financial aid to the Syrian opposition or risk compromising the legitimacy of the Syrian National Coalition in the eyes of the armed rebels.

The opposition coalition was formed in November. More than 100 countries have back the umbrella group, decreeing it the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people. France was the first to confer such recognition.

The United Nations said Monday it had only raised three percent of the $1.5 million target for donations to help millions of Syrians hit the hardest by the war.

Some 4 million Syrians need food, shelter and other aid inside the country and nearly 700,000 more have fled to neighboring countries since the 22-month-old conflict began, UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos told reporters in Beirut.

Aid agencies have struggled to help Syrians in the country because control of some areas changes frequently and humanitarian workers have been kidnapped and killed, said Amos, hours after she returned from a visit to Syria.

The United Nations says it needs about $1 billion to help refugees in neighboring countries including Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, and another $519 million to help people inside Syria.

"We very much hope that the countries attending that conference will be generous in supporting our appeal. We cannot do our job without the resources to enable us to do that," she said, referring to a conference to be held in Kuwait on January 30, chaired by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

(AP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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