Bomb shakes Damascus, opposition holds unity talks
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
AMMAN (Reuters) - A bomb exploded near army and security compounds in Damascus, Syrian television reported, and fractured opposition groups seeking to topple President Bashar al-Assad began unity talks abroad to win international respect and arms supplies.
The 50-kilogram (110-pound) bomb, near a large hotel in a heavily guarded district, was described by state media as an attack by "terrorists" - the government's term for insurgents in the 19-month-old uprising against Assad.
Opposition activists said Sunday's blast appeared to be the work of the Ahfad al-Rasoul (Grandsons of the Prophet) Brigade, an Islamist militant unit that attacked military and intelligence targets several times in the last two months.
The mainly Sunni rebels have carried out a series of bombings targeting government and military buildings in Damascus this year, extending the war into the seat of Assad's power.
The Syrian conflict has aggravated divisions in the Islamic world, with Shi'ite Iran supporting Assad -- whose Alawite faith derives from Shi'ite Islam -- and U.S.-allied Sunni nations such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar backing his foes.
The Syrian Network for Human Rights, an activist monitoring group, said government forces had killed 179 people on Sunday. It said most of the dead were civilians killed in shelling of Damascus suburbs and included 14 women and 20 children. The rest were rebels killed in battles in the capital and the northern provinces of Idlib and Aleppo.
Opposition campaigners said the Syrian army shelled rebel positions inside a Palestinian refugee camp on the edge of Damascus on Sunday, killing at least 20 people. They said the Yarmouk camp had become the latest battleground in the war.
In northern Idlib, opposition sources said rebels were forced to halt an offensive to take a big air base because of a shortage of ammunition, a problem that has dogged their campaign to cement a hold on the north by eliminating Assad's devastating edge in firepower. Continued...