Syria: 'We'll respond to attacks with iron fist'

Suicide bomb in the heart of Damascus kills 26, wounds 63; Syrian Interior Minister Ibrahim Shaar vows to strike back.

Bus damage in Syrian suicide bombing 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/SYRIAN TV )
Bus damage in Syrian suicide bombing 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/SYRIAN TV )
BEIRUT - A suicide bomber killed 26 people and wounded 63 in Damascus on Friday, Syria's interior minister said, vowing an "iron fist" response to the carnage in the heart of the Syrian capital after similar attacks two weeks ago.
The blast came two days before an Arab League committee was due to discuss an initial report by Arab observers who are checking Syria's compliance with an Arab plan to halt President Bashar Assad's crackdown on nearly 10 months of unrest.
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The meeting may decide whether to continue the mission or to refer Syria to the United Nations Security Council, perhaps paving the way for some form of international action, a scenario that many Arab countries are keen to avoid.
Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said he was sending a message with Khaled Mashaal, the Damascus-based leader of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, asking the Syrian government to work "with integrity" to halt the violence.
Interior Minister Ibrahim Shaar, quoted by state television, said 26 people had been killed in the blast in the Maidan district of Damascus, including 15 who could not be identified because their bodies had been shredded in the blast.
"We will strike back with an iron fist at anyone tempted to tamper with the security of the country or its citizens," he said. He said that about 63 people had been wounded.
Some in the opposition said the government itself had staged the attack to try to show that it is fighting blind violence rather than a pro-democracy movement.
State television showed body parts, bloodstains and broken glass from the explosion. Several riot police shields were shown near a wrecked bus that was among several damaged vehicles.
On December 23 at least 44 people were killed by what Syrian authorities said were two suicide bombings that targeted security buildings in the Syrian capital, one day before the head of the Arab League observer mission arrived there.
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