Syrian state television says security forces have killed a would-be suicide bomber in the northern city of Aleppo, a day after twin bomb explosions claimed dozens of lives in the capital city, Damascus.
Friday’s announcement came amid reports of demonstrations by thousands of people against the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Aleppo and other towns and cities across the country.
“Syrian authorities have foiled an attempted suicide attack in Al-Shaar area of Aleppo and killed the would-be attacker,” Syrian state TV said.
It said the would-be attacker’s car was laden with 1,200kg of explosives. Soldiers stopped the car when they noticed what looked like fake government licence plates. The driver was shot and killed, state TV said.
Opposition activists dismissed the official account as “a lie”, AFP news agency reported citing Mohammad al-Halabi, an Aleppo-based activist.
He said “it is not in the interests of the [rebel] Free Syrian Army to stage attacks on a Friday”, the day of weekly mass anti-regime protests over the past 14 months.
“The regime is trying to make people believe there is al-Qaeda here, but there is no al-Qaeda here.”
Earlier, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said troops shot and wounded five protesters in Damascus and 20 more, as well as two civilians, in Helfaya, a town in Hama. They also killed one demonstrator in Aleppo, the group said.
Five civilians were wounded when government troops opened fire in the Tadamon neighbourhood of Damascus to quell protests there, the SOHR said.
Thursday’s blasts in Damascus were said by the government to have left at least 55 people dead and hundreds of others wounded,
Leon Panetta, US defence secretary, suggested on Thursday that al-Qaeda might be taking advantage of instability in Syria and said US intelligence suggested the group was present in the country.
On the other hand, Burhan Ghalioun, the opposition leader, said Assad’s government wanted to destroy the UN’s peace plan.
More than 100 UN observers are currently in Syria to monitor a ceasefire brokered by Kofi Annan, the international peace envoy, on 12 April.
Ghalioun, who heads the Syrian National Council (SNC), said: “The regime is now trying to kill this Annan plan, and by a new technique which is terrorism.”
He was speaking on Friday in Tokyo where he is attempting to rally diplomatic support for his opposition movement.
He accused the government of complicity with al-Qaeda over the bombings, alleging that Syria had co-operated with al-Qaeda against US forces in Iraq.
“The regime has operated very closely with al-Qaeda,” Ghalioun said, adding that the bombings marked a change in tactics.
He dismissed the Annan peace plan was toothless and too easy to ignore.
“If the regime fails to implement the plan, it will not get punished, and that is our concern,” he said. “Assad feels that he can run away from the plan without any consequences.”
The violence has not deterred the UN monitors from going about their mission, however. Some of the observers were seen touring Damascus on Friday while others planned to visit the eastern suburb of Douma.
Neeraj Singh, spokesman for the UN mission, said 105 monitors had so far arrived in Syria out of an expected total of 300, and had been deployed in flashpoint areas such as central Homs and Idlib.