Rebel fighters hit the office of the ruling Baath Party with rocket-propelled grenades on Sunday, bringing outright armed conflict into Syria's capital.
Damascus had been largely insulated from the unrest that has spread to towns and cities around Syria, but insurgents are growing bolder, even as President Bashar al-Assad continues to press on two fronts. The country's ruler is pressing ahead with a domestic crackdown on dissidents, while trying, so far in vain, to thwart the efforts of other governments in the Arab League to put a stop to his harsh tactics, The New York Times reports.
The blow to the party headquarters was largely superficial, The Times reports.
The group said that an hour later unidentified men on motorcycles fired a rocket-propelled grenade on the Baath party offices, in the upscale neighborhood of Mazraa, that hit the outside wall of the building. The group said that before security forces reached the area, insurgents fired two other rocket-propelled grenades that did not strike their target.
Like other attacks so far on government installations in Idlib and the capital’s suburbs, it seemed to be more of a symbolic message than a real threat. In destruction and carnage, they pale before the worst episodes in the last uprising in the late 1970s and early 1980s that threatened the Assad family’s four decades of rule.
Meanwhile, the Assad regime waved off Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's warning that the nation was entering "civil war" as "wishful thinking" on the part of the U.S., AFP reports.
The regime also cast doubt on the reported grenade attack:
[Foreign Minister Walid] Muallem also dismissed as "totally unfounded" reports that the offices of the ruling Baath party in Damascus had been hit by several rocket-propelled grenades on Sunday.
The reports came from rights groups and activists, but an AFP reporter who went to the area found no trace of an attack while local residents denied there had been explosions.
The Syrian leadership is more focused on negotiations within the Arab League, which had threatened to impose sanctions on Syria if it didn't meet a deadline of Saturday night to end the killing of protesters. "We in Syria do not consider that the deadline is the important issue," the minister said. "The content is the important issue, and to reach an agreement with the Arab League is what counts."
There's a lot of uncertainty, but it appears clear that some sort of attack happened in Damascus, the Assad regime's denials notwithstanding. Al Jazeera reports on it as well.