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26 killed in twin bombings in Syria's Swaida amid rising tension
At least 26 people were killed and 22 others wounded on Friday when two explosions rocked the predominantly-Druze city of Swaida in southern Syria, the state news agency SANA reported.
The first blast took place at the Daher al-Jabal area in Swiada, said the report, giving no more details. It added that the second explosion was caused by a booby-trapped car that went off near the National Hospital of Swaida.
Meanwhile, Sheikh Hammoud Hinnawi, one of the most prominent Druze Sheikhs in Swaida, told Xinhua that the Daher al-Jabal blast was caused by an explosive device that tore through the car of Sheikh Wahid al-Balous, a Druze spiritual leader and outspoken critic of the Syrian regime.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and other activists said al-Balous, who is also a critic of the Islamist militia groups, was killed along with Sheikh, Fadi Naim.
Al-Balous enjoyed a rising popularity in Swaida recently despite his outspoken criticism of the Syrian regime.
His group was said to have been coordinating indirectly with rebels from the Free Syrian Army, which enjoys some sway in the adjacent city of Daraa.
The killing Al-Balous has sparked a wave of anger among his followers, who apparently accuse the Syrian authorities of being behind the blast that led to his death.
Sheikh Youssef Jarbu, a top Druze cleric, told the pro-government Sham FM that the aim of the blasts is to frame the Syrian authorities and create a gap between the people of Swaida and the Syrian government.
The radio said a state of "cautious calm" prevailed the city after the explosions, denying reports that some armed men in Swaida started storming government institutions and security forces' positions.
It said the top clerics of the city are holding meetings with the young men to prevent the "sedition" between the sympathizers of al-Balous and the authorities.
The radio added, however, that some armed men in the city burned cars in front of government institutions in the city.
The state-run media outlets made no mention of the death of al-Balous in the blast, but carried out intensive coverage of the incident, hosting many officials and clergymen from Swaida whose main talk was accusing other parties of attempting to incite sedition.
The Syrian cabinet condemned the blasts, saying it will not dissuade the Syrian people from continuing to defend their homeland alongside the Syrian army.
The governor of Swaida, Atef al-Naddaf, said the blasts aim to stir sedition in Swaida, which has remained largely calm during the country's long-running conflict.
The Druze minority, along with other minority groups in Syria, has emerged as supporters of President Bashar al-Assad, fearing the expansion of radical jihadist groups that showed no tolerance of minority groups in Syria.
However, the Druze support of the Syrian regime didn't stop them from criticizing the government's conduct in that city near the Jordanian borders.
Last week, several dozens of people staged protests before government institutions in Swaida, urging for reforms.
Due to its proximity to the southern province of Daraa, which has largely fallen to jihadi groups, the Druze in Swaida formed their own militias to defend their city against the threats of the jihadists, which attacked some areas in the countryside of Swaida in recent months.
Those local militias, while formed in coordination with the Syrian army, enjoy some independency as their ranks is largely formed by volunteers.
Al-Balous militia, however, wasn't formed in coordination with the Syrian army. He advocated the idea of neutrality and the non-alliance to any party of group, including the Syrian government.
The sheikh even encouraged the young men to stop joining the mandatory military service in Swaida, which was among the top cities in the number of draft dodgers.
Last June, he reportedly announced he would give orders to confront any arrest aiming at recruiting Swaida's youth to Syrian forces, vowing the response will be harsh.
He said the people of Swaida still retain their independent national decision of neutrality, and refuse to pledge loyalty to any party, saying: "the real weapon of the people of Swaida is their dignity".
Sources inside Swaida said the people hear crackle of gunshots each now and then amid a state of tension in that city, which could slide into the quagmire of violence after the blasts if the spiritual leaders there couldn't quell the tension.
[Source: Xinhua, Damascus, 04Sep15]
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