Syria held funerals Saturday for 26 people who the government said were killed by a suicide bomber a day earlier at a busy Damascus junction.

Analysts and opposition activists, however, accused the regime of staging the bombing – the second in the Syrian capital in as many weeks.

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State television showed a cortege of ambulances bearing the flag-draped coffins of victims to a Damascus mosque after driving through streets lined with mourners. Crowds chanted “The people want Bashar Assad!” and “One, one, one, the Syrian people are one!” Analysts said footage shown on state media immediately after the blast took place in the Maidan district looked suspicious.

“Blood is shown scattered in small uniform pools and greatly distanced, which is the exact opposite of all the usual terrorist explosion footage or scenes,” a Syrian journalist told The Jerusalem Post on condition of anonymity. “The same goes for the body parts and pieces... The body parts have no blood stains under them.”

The journalist, who now lives abroad, said regime-linked TV crews reached the area long before security forces, even though media outlets generally require dozens of security clearances before entering a bomb scene.

“The explosion took place around 11 a.m. right before Friday prayers, which means most streets were vacant, thus explaining the relative low casualty figure,” he said.

Bodies shown in the footage are almost all lying on their backs or sides, and at one point the camera focuses on a severed head neatly placed on the ground and almost entirely clean of blood.

Michael Weiss, a Syria specialist at the Henry Jackson Society in London, said the Syrian government had a rich history of manipulating international opinion.

“Anyone who knows this regime recognizes that it’s more than capable of elaborate theatrics to both dupe the West into sympathizing with it and provide a pretext for further massacres.”

Weiss noted that this weekend’s explosion bore many of the same signs as a bombing two weeks ago near Syrian intelligence headquarters. In that incident, he said, the regime “broadcast an unintentionally hilarious claim on state TV that it had ‘arrested the terrorists who blew themselves up today.’ Then it blamed the Muslim Brotherhood and invented a bogus website for the group claiming responsibility. The Assadist school of falsification is something many still, bizarrely, don’t understand.”

Syrian Interior Minister Ibrahim al-Shaar promised to hit back with an “iron fist” for the blast, which he said wounded more than 60 people.

Hezbollah, heavily funded by Syria and Iran, blamed the blast on “evil American forces and those under its control in our region to punish Syria for its firm support of resistance forces against the Zionist enemy and the West.”

A US State Department representative said that, as with previous attacks, Syria had blamed “just about everybody” – the opposition, al-Qaida and the United States – but that circumstances were premature to assign blame.

Security forces killed four civilians in Homs on Saturday, and three people died in Harasta from wounds inflicted on Friday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. It also said security forces had killed 20 civilians and three army defectors on Friday.

On Saturday, Al Jazeera reported a high-ranking Syrian military official had defected in protest against the crackdown.

Flanked by soldiers brandishing rifles, a man named by Al Jazeera as Col. Afeef Mahmoud Suleiman read out a statement saying they were defecting after witnessing acts of violence by the army on protesters.

“We soldiers have defected from this army after watching the military and security forces killing protesting civilians with all kinds of weapons,” said Suleiman, who Al Jazeera said was from the army’s air force logistics division in the city of Hama.

The channel reported that up to 50 soldiers had defected along with Suleiman. Thirteen men dressed in camouflage could be seen standing behind him in the video.

Friday’s explosion occurred ahead of an Arab League committee meeting in Cairo on Sunday to discuss the future of a monitoring mission to check whether Syria is keeping its pledge to halt the 10-month crackdown, in which at least 6,000 people are believed to have been killed.

On Friday, the Arab League asked the Damascus-based leader of Hamas to help push Syria to halt violence. Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby was speaking alongside Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal after a meeting in Cairo.

“I gave him a message today to the Syrian authorities that it is necessary to work with integrity, transparency and credibility to halt the violence that is happening in Syria,” Elaraby said. He said the Hamas leader had played a role in convincing the Syrian government to sign the Arab League protocol.

“Since the start of the crisis, we in Hamas and myself personally, have made a huge effort to solve the crisis through a political solution, and we have kept up these efforts,” Mashaal said.

Damascus is host to the main Hamas headquarters outside of the Gaza Strip.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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