Syrian rebels assaulted a checkpoint in a pro-government suburb of Damascus on Saturday, setting off a suicide vehicle bomb that killed 16 soldiers, activists said.
The state news agency SANA confirmed the blast in the suburb of Jaramana and said it caused casualties, but did not give a number.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that rebels led by the al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, or Nusra Front, carried out the attack while trying to capture the checkpoint near the town of Mleiha adjoining Jaramana. It reported heavy fighting after the blast.
Rebels control much of the countryside around Damascus but Jaramana, a Christian and Druse area, is mostly loyal to President Bashar Assad. Opposition fighters have previously targeted it with bombings and mortar rounds.
Assad has drawn support from Syria’s ethnic and religious minorities, including Christians and members of his Alawite sect. The rebels are dominated by Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority.
At least 100,000 Syrians have been killed in the country’s civil war, now in its third year.
US demands Syria allow aid through to besieged Damascus suburbs
The United States on Friday condemned the Syrian military siege of the eastern suburbs of Damascus which has created food shortages and reports of a humanitarian crisis in the making.
The State Department released a statement demanding that the government headed by President Bashar Assad permit access to aid in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta as well as in Mouadimiya, where reports indicate that children have been dying of malnutrition due to the ongoing civil war.
“The people of Mouadimiya have been without basic necessities for nearly a year, and the regime’s deliberate prevention of the delivery of lifesaving humanitarian supplies to thousands of civilians is unconscionable,” the State Department said. “We call on the Syrian regime to immediately approve relief convoys into these areas.”
Washington also called on the regime to punish those who have been deliberately denying access to these areas. The American condemnation comes as fighting continues to rage around the country.
Syrian air force jets bombarded the eastern city of Deir al-Zor on Friday after heavy overnight clashes and the killing of one of Assad’s top military intelligence officers, activists said.
General Jama’a Jama’a was shot dead on Thursday by snipers in the midst of a battle with rebels including forces linked to al Qaeda, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
His death, celebrated by rebels and opposition activists, marked a significant setback for Assad’s bid to retain a hold over the city, capital of the eastern oil-producing province.
A death notice published on Facebook said Jama’a’s body was being flown back for burial on Friday in his home village of Zama in the mountains overlooking the Mediterranean – the heartland of Assad’s Alawite sect.
Syria’s 2-1/2-year-old uprising began with peaceful protests but has descended into a brutal civil war with sectarian dimensions. Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority has largely joined the revolt against four decades of Assad family rule.
Minority sects such as the Alawites, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, have largely stood behind the president.