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Syria Blames Blast on Iraq; High Toll Reported

March 18, 1986|Associated Press

DAMASCUS, Syria — Syrian state television Monday blamed Iraq for a truck-bomb explosion near a compound occupied by Soviet advisers in Damascus, although the Soviets may not have been the target of the attack. A Lebanese radio station said the blast killed or wounded more than 200 people.

Syrian television said an "agent of the Iraqi regime" drove a refrigerator truck packed with explosives into Damascus last Thursday and detonated it by remote control. The broadcast then showed film of a man who said he was Ahmed Hassan Eid, 27, of Lebanon's northern port city of Tripoli, stating that he carried out the bombing on instructions from the Iraqi secret service.

'A Number of Casualties'

State television said the attack caused "a number of casualties among the citizens," but it gave no number. It also did not say why President Hafez Assad's government had waited five days to disclose the bombing.

It showed a film clip of several Syrians in hospital beds and said they were pedestrians wounded in the attack, but there was no mention of Soviet casualties.

The Voice of Lebanon, a radio station in Beirut, reported the bombing in a broadcast Sunday. It said it occurred Thursday night in Abbassien Square near a privately owned swimming club and a few yards from a housing compound for Soviet advisers.

It also did not say if there were any Soviet victims, and it gave no attribution for its report that there were 200 casualties. It did not specify how many were killed and how many were wounded.

The Soviet Union has an estimated 2,500 advisers serving with the Syrian armed forces.

Voice of Lebanon is controlled by Lebanese President Amin Gemayel's Christian Falangist Party.

Friction between Gemayel and Assad increased after Gemayel rejected a Syrian-sponsored pact designed to end Lebanon's long conflict between Christian and Muslim militias. Gemayel was not consulted on the pact.

Syria and Iraq are governed by rival wings of the Socialist Baath Party and have long battled over ideological, political and economic issues.

Syria and Libya, both close allies of the Soviet Union, are the only Arab states that support Persian Iran in its war with Arab Iraq.

In the Syrian broadcast, Eid, the confessed bomber, said he was a truck driver who had a route between Lebanon and Iraq through Syria and that he had an accident last November in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, in which an Iraqi army officer was killed.

He said he was imprisoned for 50 days in Baghdad and that Iraqi intelligence officers then offered him the "choice between execution or obeying them."

Told to Drive to Damascus

"When I agreed to obey, they asked me to drive a car bomb to Damascus and detonate it near the Syrian army officers club on a Thursday night, when it would be crowded with officers" on the eve of the Muslim weekend, Eid said.

But once he reached the district where the club is located, he found he could not approach the target because it was shielded by "anti-car-bomb blocks."

"So, not knowing what to do, I took the truck outside town and detonated it. I was taught to press four buttons in the truck, walk away some 400 yards and press a wireless device to activate the explosion," he said, showing the device. It was not clear whether Eid knew that he had moved the truck close to the Soviet compound.

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