.- Two deadly car bombs that exploded in a Damascus suburb Nov. 28 killed at least 34 people and are “terrorizing” the Christian population, a local priest says.
Father Romualdo Fernandez, rector of the Damascene Shrine of the Conversion of St. Paul, told Fides news agency that the “massacre” has “spread terrible panic” and some schools report that half the teachers were absent the day after the attack.
“(W)hoever are the people behind the crime, if the aim was to terrorize the Christians, they are succeeding,” Fr. Fernandez said.
Two bombs exploded in the eastern suburb of Jaramana, a district loyal to Syria’s President Bashar Assad. The car bombs exploded within five minutes of each other in a parking lot between two commercial buildings, killing and wounding laborers and employees.
“The attack had been prepared to kill as many people as possible: when the first car bomb exploded, people approached, and only then the second bomb exploded,” Fr. Nicholas Haddad of the Greek-Catholic monastery of San Germano told Fides.
He said many of the victims of the bombing were young people and students.
Most of the victims were Muslims and Druze. Fr. Haddad said eight Christians, either Greek Catholic or Greek Orthodox, were among the dead. The priest reported that at least 10 Christians were among the dozens of wounded.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the bombings.
Government officials blamed the attack on “terrorists,” a label they frequently use for the armed rebels. Opposition forces blamed the attack on a government intelligence operation.
Conflict between the Syrian government and rebel forces has continued for 20 months. As many as 40,000 people have been killed since March 2011.
Rebel forces have won several tactical victories in recent weeks, taking air bases and other strategic facilities. Internet and cell phone access failed to work on Thursday, leading to claims that the government had taken down the services to stall rebel offensives or in preparation for an offensive of its own.
Analysts told the Associated Press that most of the rebels are ordinary Syrians and soldiers who have defected because of their opposition to the government. However, foreign fighters and those dedicated to an extremist form of Islam are increasingly appearing on the battle front.
The rebels are predominantly Sunni Muslim, the majority religion in Syria. President Assad is a member of the Alawite religious minority, a branch of Shiite Islam. Other religious minorities, including Christians, tend to support his government.
The Jaramana suburb is known for its large Christian and Druze presence. Many Christian refugees, such as those “ethnically cleansed” from the city of Homs, have found refuge there.
Fr. Fernandez said there are even fewer Syrian Christians after the Iraq war.
“They give all the money they have to reach Lebanon, and from there they run away from the Middle East – while foreign powers and the international community blow on the flames, instead of forcing the parties to negotiate a settlement that puts an end to this massacre.”