February 21, 2016

ISIS deadly attacks in regime areas of Syria - no ceasefire in sight

Firefighters at the bombing site in Homs

Not for the first time, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has been able to mount near simultaneous deadly attacks in two regime-held areas of two separate cities, killing scores of people loyal to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Asad. The attacks occurred in the city of Homs and a suburb of Damascus.

In Homs, two car bombs detonated near bus stops in the al-Zahra' district - a pro-regime area inhabited mainly by members of the 'Alawi sect of Bashar al-Asad. The twin car bombings are yet another in a series of ISIS attacks on the 'Alawi neighborhood - it demonstrates ISIS's capability to continue to strike regime targets inside regime-controlled territory. The selection of this target should not be lost on the Syrian government.

However, the deadlier of the two attacks - at least 83 dead - was in the Damascus suburb of Sayidat Zaynab, or the "Lady Zaynab" (in Syria more commonly called Sitt Zaynab). Three suicide bombers (one in a car) detonated bombs near the Sitt Zaynab shrine*, a holy site for Shi'a Muslims, particularly Iranian Shi'a Muslims.

Lady Zaynab was the granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad, the daughter of Imam ‘Ali (first Shi'a imam and fourth Sunni caliph) and the sister of Imam Husayn. She is revered among the Shi'a - her shrine is guarded by members of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Sayyidah Zaynab shrine (my photo)

The timing of these attacks is suspect - coming at a time when US Secretary of State John Kerry says we are close to a ceasefire. His words: "We are closer to a ceasefire today than we have been...." Kerry said he and his Russian counterpart Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov "continued to discuss the modalities" of the truce.

That is all well and good, but when you are negotiating a ceasefire, all parties have to agree to stop shooting. ISIS is not a party to the ceasefire talks - nor should they be. You cannot negotiate with ISIS - you have to eradicate them. The actions today demonstrate that.

* I have been to the Sitt Zaynab shrine dozens of times - it is one of the most beautiful buildings in Damascus, both inside and out. It is a huge magnet for Iranian pilgrims and tourists. I hope that when all is said and done, this shrine survives.