BEIRUT: Several hundred residents of Homs staged a demonstration Thursday and demanded the ouster of the provincial governor after a horrific twin bombing at an elementary school killed more than 50 children.
The bombings, which shook the neighborhood of Akrama, considered a loyalist bastion, sparked outrage as well as impassioned debates among several groups – supporters of the regime, supporters of the rebels and those in the middle.
The protesters vented their anger at Governor Talal al-Barazi over the deadly attack and not at the Damascus authorities, according to video footage of the protest posted on a pro-regime Facebook page.
“The people want to topple the governor,” people shouted, some holding signs denouncing “silence” over the killings.
Another pro-regime news outlet circulated a separate piece of video footage from the protest, titling it, “Scenes that will not be broadcast on state television.” It shows several angry residents telling a pro-regime television crew that they want to see security officials responsible for the city to be immediately dealt with by the military justice system, for their failure to prevent the blasts.
The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel-Rahman, told AFP that “the protest began as a mass funeral for the children but morphed into a demonstration as residents vented their rage,” and added that the protesters accused Barazi of downplaying the death toll.
The Observatory, a monitoring group based in Britain, said the authorities briefly detained a man for his role in organizing the event.
The Observatory said that 50 people, all but four of whom were young students, were killed by two blasts – one the result of a car bomb, and the second the result of a suicide bomber who blew himself up several minutes after the first explosion, as relatives and security personnel were rushing to the scene.
Barazi and other state officials had given slightly lower figures Wednesday, as the death toll steadily rose throughout the day.
However, the details of the attack have been hotly disputed by anti-regime activists, who maintain that two car bombs – and no suicide bombers – were responsible.
Several anti-regime media outlets and activist media networks claimed that the blasts were likely the result of a struggle for power between the authorities and paramilitary groups, such as the Popular Committees, as part of a turf war.
Some accounts focused on the neighborhood of Waer, on the outskirts of Homs, the only part of the city that remains in rebel hands.
This version maintained that paramilitary groups or criminal elements from a nearby village were angered by Barazi’s recent decision to allow foodstuffs and other desperately-needed goods enter the besieged neighborhood of Waer. The blasts, according to this version, targeted Barazi’s authority in the city.
Some supporters of the regime blamed the residents of Waer, or the rebels based there, for the explosions, while anti-regime voices from the area quickly brushed off the notion.
“There are many, many checkpoints in Akrama,” one commenter said on social media. “There’s no way that someone can move around unless he has military I.D. with him.”
Anti-regimers also circulated photos purporting to show children from Waer on the evening of the blasts, holding up signs to denounce the carnage.
“He who killed the children of Akrama is the same one who killed the children of Waer,” read one sign, casting blame on the regime.
Some anti-regimers seized on the deadly explosions to argue that the mainstream opposition found nothing to “celebrate” in Wednesday’s atrocity. No official claims of responsibility have been made, despite rumors that the Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, did so.
A number of anti-regime social media pages prominently displayed photos and accounts of the massacre, and expressed condemnation.
The opposition-in-exile National Coalition condemned the atrocity and called it a “criminal, terrorist act that is part of a string of similar crimes ... which serve the interest of the Assad regime.”
The Coalition hinted that the regime was behind the blast, saying the authorities “have been suffering for a while now from [organized] campaigns of anger and complaints in the ranks of loyalists, which has made the regime fear the internal decay of its core base of support.”
Meanwhile, the National Coordination Body, a “tolerated” opposition group inside the country, issued a terse statement that denounced the blasts, which it blamed on a car bomb and not a suicide attack – and was promptly criticized by some of its own supporters for its “weak” statement.
A pro-regime media activist group from Seidnaya, a Christian town in Rural Damascus province, expressed the general sense of outrage throughout the country, as it said, “We express our condolences ... and at the same time we’re in solidarity with you, in order to reveal the corrupt people in Homs, including the governor and some corrupt security officials and their followers, who are the chief reason for these dirty, terrorist acts. We are with you in relaying a plea to President Bashar Assad, to find an immediate solution in Homs province.”
The protest in Akrama
Children in Waer denounce blasts