By Dominic Evans
BEIRUT, May 11 (Reuters) - Syrian forces foiled an attempted suicide car bombing with 1,200 kg (2,640 pounds) of explosives in the northern city of Aleppo on Friday, state television said, a day after two bombs in the capital Damascus killed at least 55 people.
The would-be bomber was killed in the al Shaar district of Syria's largest city which, like Damascus, has seen increasing street protests against President Bashar al-Assad and rising levels of bloodshed after months of relative calm.
Twin bombings in southern Damascus killed 55 people and wounded more than 300 on Thursday, the deadliest attacks since the uprising against Assad erupted 14 months ago, inspired by revolts against autocratic rulers elsewhere in the Arab world.
The blasts further undermined a tattered ceasefire agreement repeatedly violated by the army and rebels since it was brokered by international mediator Kofi Annan four weeks ago. The deal has been overseen by nearly 150 unarmed U.N. observers in Syria.
Syria said the attacks showed that it faced foreign-backed terrorism - an argument it made from the start of peaceful protests against Assad in March last year - while the opposition blamed authorities for the blasts.
Syria's Ikhbariya television showed U.N. monitors inspecting a white mini-van in Aleppo on Friday which an army officer told them had contained enough explosive to kill 500 people. The bloodied body of the van driver lay crumpled in the front seat, behind a windscreen riddled with bullet holes.
The officer told the U.N. observers the driver, who he said was not Syrian, was shot before he could detonate the bombs.
There was no claim of responsibility for the Damascus bombings. Syrian authorities blamed foreign-backed terrorists. Opposition activists denied any involvement. Some analysts have speculated that recent bombings could be the work of al Qaeda-linked Islamists with skills honed by years of activity in Iraq.
Protests erupted in several Syrian cities on Friday after weekly Muslim prayers. Opposition activists said security forces fired on demonstrators in Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo.
Video footage that activists said was filmed in Aleppo on Friday showed hundreds of demonstrators marching and chanting "peaceful, peaceful", before scattering as the sound of gunfire rang out.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said one person was killed at the Aleppo protests and another nine civilians were killed across the country on Friday.
PEACE PLAN "DEAD FROM START"
The opposition Syrian National Council said on Friday Annan's peace plan had been "dead from the start" because state authorities had not respected the ceasefire, and called for foreign intervention to protect civilians.
"The steps should include the creation of a buffer zone, secured humanitarian aid corridors, a no-fly zone and measures to protect people from violence," the SNC said in statement.
The bombings in Damascus, it said, had been just one of a series of attempts by Assad's security forces aimed at scaring off Annan's international observers.
The observer mission aims to deploy 300 monitors across Syria by the end of May under Annan's plan, which seeks to end more than a year of bloodshed by disengaging opposing armed forces, launching political dialogue and ensuring free access to Syria for humanitarian aid and journalists.
The United Nations says Syrian forces have killed more than 9,000 people since March last year. Authorities say militants have killed 2,600 soldiers and security force members.
Annan's April 12 ceasefire initially helped calm the violence, but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, estimates that 900 people have been killed since then.
Despite scepticism over its prospects of success, world powers are reluctant to write off the monitoring mission.
"I don't think it's time yet to say that the mission and the Annan initiative has failed," Washington's U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice, said on Thursday.
"Although we've been sceptical of the Syrian government's readiness and willingness to implement its commitments, what Annan is trying to do makes eminent sense and we support it."
Russia blamed Assad's opponents for ceasefire violations.
"Some of our foreign partners are doing practical things so that the situation in Syria explodes in literal and figurative sense," state-run RIA quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying in Beijing on Thursday.
Russia has been a strategic ally and major arms supplier to Syria during its four decades under Assad family rule. (Additional reporting by Simon Cameron-Moore in Istanbul; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
07/13/2012 1:00 PM EDT
Car Bomb In Damascus
Syrian policemen inspect the site of a car bomb explosion on Mazzeh highway in the capital Damascus on July 13, 2012. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/GettyImages)
07/13/2012 12:00 PM EDT
Susan Rice Condemns Killings
U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tweets:
@ AmbassadorRice :
#Syria regime turned artillery, tanks and helicopters on its own men & women. It unleashed knife-wielding shabiha gangs on its own children.
07/13/2012 11:58 AM EDT
Russia Condemns Massacre
Russia says international envoy Kofi Annan will visit Moscow on Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. Russia also called for an inquiry into an alleged massacre that took place in the village of Tramseh on Thursday. "We have no doubt that this wrongdoing serves the interests of those powers that are not seeking peace but persistently seek to sow the seeds of interconfessional and civilian conflict on Syrian soil," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters. Moscow did not apportion blame for the killings.
Read more on Reuters.com.
07/13/2012 11:55 AM EDT
Footage Of Massacre Aftermath (WARNING: VIDEO CONTAINS DISTURBING IMAGES)
The Associated Press obtained a video that purports to show the aftermath of an alleged massacre in the village of Tramseh, near Hama.
07/13/2012 9:34 AM EDT
How Do Syrian Fighters Get Their Arms?
How do Syria's fighters get their arms? An overview put together by Reuters explains that there are three gateways to the country -- Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.
Syrian rebels are smuggling small arms into Syria through a network of land and sea routes involving cargo ships and trucks moving through Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, maritime intelligence and Free Syrian Army (FSA) officers say.
Western and regional powers deny any suggestion they are involved in gun running. Their interest in the sensitive border region lies rather in screening to ensure powerful weapons such as surface to air missiles do not find their way to Islamist or other militants.
Read the full report here.
07/13/2012 9:10 AM EDT
Activists Report New Massacre (WARNING: GRAPHIC PHOTOS)
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a victim wounded by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. The accounts, some of which claim more than 200 people were killed in the violence Thursday, could not be independently confirmed, but would mark the latest in a string of brutal offensives by Syrian forces attempting to crush the rebellion. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a man mourning a victim killed by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
07/12/2012 6:50 PM EDT
Hama Revolutionary Council: More Than 220 Killed
According to the Hama Revolutionary Council, a Syrian opposition group, more than 220 people have been killed in a new alleged massacre in Taramseh. Earlier reports said more than 100 people were killed. "More than 220 people fell today in Taramseh," the Council said in a statement. "They died from bombardment by tanks and helicopters, artillery shelling and summary executions."
Fadi Sameh, an opposition activist from Taramseh, told Reuters he had left the town before the reported massacre but was in touch with residents. "It appears that Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Taramseh after its rebel defenders pulled out, and started killing the people. Whole houses have been destroyed and burned from the shelling," Sameh claimed.
Read more on Reuters.com.
07/12/2012 6:17 PM EDT
Syrian State TV: 'Large Numbers Of Terrorists Killed'
Syrian activist Rami Jarrah tweets that Syrian State TV has confirmed deaths in Tremseh. "Terrorists" is often the term used by the Syrian regime for opposition forces.
@ AlexanderPageSY :
Syrian State TV: clashes between security apparatus & terrorists in #Tremseh of #Hama leaves large numbers of terrorists killed #Syria
07/12/2012 5:36 PM EDT
Update: Death Toll In New Massacre Reportedly More Than 200
@ Reuters :
UPDATE: DEATH TOLL IN SYRIAN FORCES' ATTACK ON VILLAGE IN SYRIA'S HAMA REGION IS MORE THAN 200, MOSTLY CIVILIANS - OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS