Damascus suburb bomb: “This was a warning to religious minorities to take sides”

 
Several dozen people died in two car bomb explosions in Jaramana, a south-eastern district of Damascus, early Wednesday morning. This area is predominantly inhabited by members of the country’s Druze and Christian minorities, most of which have so far stayed out of the Syrian uprising. Our Observer, who was in the district at the time, explains that this attack clearly targeted civilians.
 
The car bomb blasts, followed by two smaller blasts, killed 34 people, according to state media. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based activist group, put the death toll higher, at 54 people. Scores more were reportedly injured.
 
Pro-government TV channels blamed the attack on “terrorists”, which is shorthand the authorities use to describe the mainly-Sunni Muslim fighters who are trying to topple the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the bombings.
 
These attacks, among the bloodiest the capital has seen in months, has come on the heels of heavy fighting between the army and rebels in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, as well as military gains by the rebels in Syria’s north and east.
 
Smoke rising above a building in Jaramana on Wednesday. Photo published by opposition activists on the Facebook page Jaramana Coordination.
Contributors

“These explosions definitely seemed like a warning to the people: you have to take sides now”

Nabil lives in Damascus. He was visiting friends in Jaramana when they heard the blasts and went out to investigate.
 
The explosions took place in the hours where the streets are quite busy, with students on their way to school and employees on their way to their offices. And it took place in an area where there are no regime buildings. So it seems obvious the goal was to target civilians.
 
“The locals allowed refugees to move to Jaramana, so it’s difficult now to differentiate between those supporting the regime or against it”
 
The majority of the inhabitants in Jaramana belong to the Druze sect [a heterodox offshoot of Islam] or are Christians. [There are also Palestinians and Iraqis]. But since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, there has also been an influx of people who were forced to leave their homes in other suburbs of Damascus due to fighting. They moved to Jaramana because it was, relatively speaking, quite safe. The locals allowed people seeking refuge or medical aid to come in. So it’s difficult now to differentiate between those supporting the regime and those against it.
 
The Druze, who dominate Jaramana, are worried that if the regime falls, they might be vulnerable if Sunni Muslims come to power. [President Assad is himself part of a minority group, the Alawites]. Still, they have tried, as much as possible, to stay out of this fight. It’s an oversimplification to say the district is pro-regime. Its inhabitants have refused to let the army enter, so they formed their own brigades to man checkpoints around the district [with the army’s tacit permission]. They’ve also, of course, refused to let in militias from the Free Syrian Army [the rebel army], though not for lack of trying on their part - rebel fighters have tried to enter Jaramana many times, but each time, they are pushed back by the local brigades.
 
"Now, both sides are blaming each other for trying to intimidate Jaramana residents into picking sides"
 
This is not the first time there’s an explosion in Jaramana. There was an explosion nearly three months ago, then a series of explosions one month ago. These attacks followed threats from members of the Free Syrian Army [the rebel army], who asked the district’s residents to support them – or else.
 
Now, both sides are blaming each other for trying to intimidate Jaramana residents into picking sides. While there is no way to know who is behind the attack, these explosions definitely seemed like a warning to the people: you have to take sides now.
 
Footage of the car bombs' aftermath published on YouTube by a pro-regime television station. 
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