At Least 38 Die in Syria Bombings; Rebel Missile Shoots Down Assad Jet

UN committee condemns Syria on human rights abuses but Damascus dismisses vote as politically motivated; opposition coalition prepares to hold first full meeting on forming transitional government crucial for Arab and Western support.

Reuters
Reuters
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At least 38 people were killed in Syria when two car bombs exploded in the eastern Damascus district of Jaramana on Wednesday, activists and Syrian media said.

Addounia television, which said the blasts occurred shortly after 6.40 A.M. (0440 GMT), broadcast footage of firefighters hosing down the blackened hulks of two vehicles. Debris from neighboring buildings had also crushed several other cars.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group which has monitored the violence since Syria's uprising erupted 20 months ago, said the blasts were caused by two car bombs.

On Tuesday, rebels shot down a military helicopter in Aleppo province in Syria's north, according to video footage posted on YouTube that showed what appeared to be a missile hitting the aircraft.

Security sources and activists have reported a small but growing number of heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles entering Syria, weapons the rebels would need to stand any chance of overcoming Syrian President Bashar Assad's increasing reliance on air power.

The video could be one of the first clear indications that such weapons are in use. The Local Coordinating Committee opposition group said the Free Syrian Army had downed the helicopter near the Sheikh Suleiman army base, 30 kilometers (20 miles) northwest of the contested city of Aleppo.

UN committee condemns human rights abuses

A UN General Assembly committee condemned Syria on Tuesday for widespread human rights abuses, but Damascus dismissed the vote as politically motivated.

The draft resolution on Syria, which was co-sponsored by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United States, Britain, France and other Arab and Western states, received 132 votes in favor - 10 more than a similar resolution last year received - along with 12 against and 35 abstentions. The increased number of yes votes for the resolution shows waning support for Damascus in New York, envoys said.

The resolution was passed by the 193-nation assembly's Third Committee, which focuses on human rights, and will be put to a formal vote in December at a plenary session of the General Assembly, where it is expected to pass.

Syrian UN Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari dismissed the resolution against his country as an attempt by "Western states to interfere, and we condemn this." He also accused Qatar, which has supported the rebels seeking to toppled Syrian President Bashar Assad in the 20-month-old insurgency, of aiding and abetting Israel against the Palestinians.

Ja'afari repeated Syria's oft-stated accusation that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Libya and Turkey have been arming and financially supporting the rebels, an allegation all have denied. Western diplomats in New York, however, say privately that the Saudis and Qataris are almost certainly aiding the rebels, and possibly other countries as well.

The Syria resolution said the UN assembly "strongly condemns the continued widespread and systematic gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Syrian authorities and the Government-controlled 'shabiha' militia."

It blamed the Syrian government and allied forces for "the use of heavy weapons, aerial bombardments and force against civilians, massacres, arbitrary executions, extrajudicial killings, the killing and persecution of protesters, human rights defenders and journalists, (and) arbitrary detention."

High stakes as opposition tries to form government

The UN condemnation comes as Syria's new opposition coalition prepares to hold its first full meeting on Wednesday to discuss forming a transitional government crucial to win effective Arab and Western support for the revolt against Assad.

The 60 or so delegates, chosen after marathon talks in Qatar this month, are meeting in Cairo ahead of a gathering of the Friends of Syria, a grouping of dozens of countries that had pledged mostly non-military backing for the revolt but which are worried by the rising influence of Islamists in the opposition.

"The objective is to name the prime minister for a transitional government, or at least have a list of candidates ahead of the Friends of Syria meeting," said Suhair al-Atassi, one of the coalition's two vice-presidents.

Atassi is only one of three female members of the coalition, in which the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies account for around 40 to 45 percent.

The two-day meeting will also select committees to manage aid and communications, a process that is developing into a power struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood and secular members.

Rivalries have also intensified between the opposition in exile and rebels on the ground, where the death toll has reached 40,000 after 20 months of violence.

But the new coalition has given rise to hopes that Assad's enemies can set aside their differences and focus on securing international support to remove him.

"We have ideological differences with the coalition, but it will achieve its mission if it brings us outside military help," said Abu Nidal Mustafa, from Ansar al-Islam, an Islamist rebel unit in Damascus.

Liaison between the coalition and rebels has been assigned to former Prime Minister Riad Hijab, the highest ranking official to defect since the revolt, coalition sources said. His name is also being touted as a possible prime minister but his history in Assad's Baath Party could exclude him.

Another possible contender is Asaad Mustafa, a respected former agriculture minister under Hafez al-Assad, Assad's late father. Mustafa, who now lives in Kuwait, left the country decades ago after protesting against Hafez's policies.

Assad has painted the opposition as extremists and Al-Qaida followers and presented himself as the last guarantor for an undivided Syria.

A picture by Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) shows the scene of a car bomb explosion in a Damascus suburb, November 28, 2012. Credit: AFP

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