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Twin Bombings Kill at Least 47 in Syria’s Capital

December 23, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT

RAY SUAREZ: The carnage that’s bloodied much of Syria came home to the capital today. Two bombs erupted in Damascus, killing nearly four dozen people and wounding more than 150.

We begin with a report narrated by Inigo Gilmore of Independent Television News.

We have some technical difficulties with the Inigo Gilmore report. We’ll bring it to you now.

INIGO GILMORE: One of the bomb blasts left this huge crater in the ground. The tangled bodies of the dead were ferried away on stretchers, a doubly whammy in the heart of the capital, Damascus — the targets, two buildings belonging to Syrian security forces.

MAN (through translator): I heard the explosion and saw many body parts. There were dead bodies all over the place, bodies of women and children in their cars.

INIGO GILMORE: The attacks were carried out by suicide bombers driving vehicles packed with explosives. At least, that’s what the government claims. Even before the dust had settled, Syria’s state media seized on the attacks, saying they were further evidence of a threat from foreign-linked armed gangs.

Within minutes, state TV was reporting that terrorists linked to al-Qaida were responsible. At the bombing sites, heavily armed security forces gathered to pledge their loyalty to the regime. Car bombings have become a familiar feature in neighboring Iraq, but these were the first in Damascus since the uprising began.

Opponents of Bashar al-Assad’s regime scoffed at government claims about al-Qaida links to the attacks, pointing out that these security buildings were heavily guarded.

ALI HASSAN, Syrian Revolution General Commission: We are assured now that those bombings are happening by the regime to prevent this Arab League to meet the activists directly.

INIGO GILMORE: He was referring to a visit by a delegation from the Arab League, who arrived in Syria just hours before the bombs blasts. They’ve come to oversee an initiative aimed at stopping the violence that’s left more than 5,000 dead.

Today, they were taken straight to the scene of the bombings to see the conflict from the regime’s perspective. “And you still say there are no armed gangs in Syria?” a state journalist scoffs at this female delegate.

Accused of being perpetrators of mass killings, the regime today was casting itself as the victims. It’s a propaganda windfall at a crucial moment. They’re confident they’ve got their opponents on the run.

FAISAL MEKDAD, Syrian deputy foreign minister (through translator): The committee of the Arab League have seen the destruction and the bodies of the dead. We will visit the injured later. No human being can see these murders without condemning them.

INIGO GILMORE: This amateur video apparently shows large-scale demonstrations today in the northern region of Idlib, the scene of a massacre this week, according to the opposition.

These are the bodies of up to 90 men from the opposition Free Syria Army, allegedly killed by regime forces. It’s mass killings like this one that continue to fuel the protests. Whether the Arab League will stand up to the regime and insist on hearing stories of atrocities firsthand will determine whether their mission has any credibility and if they can really do anything to stop the killings.