DAMASCUS, Syria — This was a big one.
At the scene of the car-bombing in downtown Damascus today, the sheer scale and reach of the death and destruction was shocking.
Near the crater, in the kill zone, there was little left but charred hulks of cars, a massive truck and a city bus tossed around like toys, street lamps crumpled like toothpicks, blood and burnt corpses littering the street.
In the blast zone beyond, apartment buildings of six to ten stories were torn open, every window shattered, balconies and awnings hanging crazily askew. We were told by a law enforcement at the scene that one body from the street was tossed by the force of the explosion several stories into the air and found in an apartment high above.
It was eleven o’clock this morning, at a crowded traffic circle right in the heart of Damascus. A school stands not far away, and a small body bag was being loaded into an ambulance as we arrived.
Nearby was an office building of the local Ba’ath Party–the ruling party of Syrian President Bashar Assad. It was blown out, and may have been the intended target of the terrorist attack.
Because that is what this is: Terrorism. The forces seeking the overthrow of Assad’s repressive regime have brought the war now to Damascus. And it is a dirty war on both sides, though international human rights investigators say the bulk of the war crimes and assaults on civilians have been perpetrated by government forces.
But standing in the middle of this scene of merciless and indiscriminate carnage, the politics of Syria’s civil war seem far away, and all one can decently think about is the horrifying toll in human suffering the conflict has taken on all the people of this ancient land. Perhaps as many as 70,000 killed in a country of 23 million. Imagine 70,000 killed in Texas alone, which is roughly the same size.
But those are numbers. The blood I had to carefully avoid stepping in on the charred street and sidewalks around the blast–that is the reality behind every number, every attack by rebels or government forces on the innocent. On the children.
We spoke to a young medical student helping to pull bodies from the wreckage and attend to the wounded. One of them was a 4-year-old girl.
“A child,” he told me in broken English, his eyes filling with tears. “What a little girl have to do with this war?”
In the bright afternoon air above us, we hear the great booming of the government’s artillery battalions on the hills surrounding the city firing off round after round, raining death into rebel-held positions in the suburbs just a few miles away.