Attack linked to Syria’s moderation
BEIRUT, Lebanon – A rare bombing in Damascus over the weekend could be a sign that Syria is paying a price for moderating its hard-line policies in an attempt to boost its international standing.
No one has claimed responsibility for Saturday’s car bombing outside a state security complex that killed 17 people and wounded 14. The Syrians have not directly accused anyone, but state-run newspapers suggested foreign involvement – a veiled reference to northern Lebanon, which has become a hotbed for extremist Sunni Muslims.
The Sunni militants, sometimes called Salafists, have been blamed for a string of smaller bombings and attacks against the Syrian government and diplomatic missions in recent years. The main group is an offshoot of al-Qaida.
The Sunni extremists are angry over the tightening of security along Syria’s border with Iraq, which cuts off routes to the fight against U.S. forces. They also oppose the government’s alliance with Shiite Iran and the strict secular nature of the state.
“Once you have Salafists and Jihadis in your country and when you stop their flow to Iraq and their transit in and out from Lebanon, it is not surprising that such bombings” occur, said Andrew Tabler, an analyst and consulting editor at the English-language Syria Today magazine.
Syria has long been viewed by the United States as a destabilizing force in the region. An ally of Iran and Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, it has provided a home for some radical Palestinian groups.
But the country is trying to emerge from years of international isolation, opening up to Europe and engaging in indirect negotiations with Israel, even while still professing steadfast support for Lebanese and Palestinian militants.
In recent months, Syria has agreed to establish diplomatic ties with Lebanon for the first time since both countries became independent and has tightened its border with Iraq. A goal of European rapprochement is to drive Damascus away from its ally Iran.
The weekend car bombing could also be a sign of President Bashar Assad’s regime’s weakening grip on security and of an emerging power struggle between the regime’s security agencies, analysts said.
An Israeli Cabinet minister said the bombing may be linked to Syria’s indirect negotiations with Israel.
“There are elements who want to derail this process, mostly Tehran which feels that Syria might be moving toward a peace coalition in the region,” said Isaac Herzog.
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