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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 April, 2004, 12:21 GMT 13:21 UK
Eyewitness: Damascus blast causes panic
Demonstrators at scene of clash, along with police officers
Demonstrations against the attack were quickly dispersed by police

Life is returning to normal in the Syrian capital Damascus, following a clash between Syrian police and a group of bombers which left four people dead and a former United Nations building severely damaged.

But many residents in the Syrian capital have been left shocked at Tuesday's events and have been telling BBC News Online and BBCArabic.com about what they saw.

Damascus resident Heba Masri, who lives close to the scene of the clashes, told BBCArabic.com that she heard several explosions.

"People fled from their homes in panic," she said.

"Electricity was cut off and traffic stopped in the streets. There were a lot of sirens from police cars, ambulances and fire trucks. We were very scared."

Ted Guhl, an American national working as a teacher in Damascus, described to BBC News Online what he heard.

"There were at least a dozen blasts and several rounds of gunfire," he said.

"We could hear the explosions, which began around 1900 and continued sporadically for at least 15 minutes. We could also see smoke rising from the Mazze area."

'Terrified'

The attackers had apparently set off a car bomb outside the former UN building - on a main road leading to Damascus - before attempting to flee in a second car.

Syrian police arrived and a clash between the two sides erupted, leaving one police officer, a bystander and two suspected attackers dead, state media reported.

Rumours are rife and many are shocked that this land of peace and tranquillity could be breached
Damascus resident
"I was driving my car along the Mazze motorway when the first explosion occurred - I think I was about 50 metres [165 feet] away," Aref in Damascus told BBCArabic.com.

"I was driving at high speed and my car shook very violently. I was terrified and kept driving. I saw a minibus on fire and I heard machine gunfire."

Mahdi Jamali, who lives in the Mazze district, was working from home when he began hearing explosions.

"The whole building shook. I went out to the street along with all my neighbours, then there was machine-gun fire exchange and more explosions followed and went on for about five minutes," he said.

Bullet hole in windshield of car following attack
The scale of the violence shocked local residents
"People were running in the street in panic and fear. We managed to return to our homes.

"Later in the night people gathered around the scene of the clashes. They wanted to demonstrate against the attack, but the police quickly dispersed them," Mahdi Jamali said.

In the aftermath of the violence, residents rushed to contact friends and relatives to ensure they were safe.

"I wanted to call my family after I heard the news, but I wasn't able to use my mobile phone until almost two hours after the attack. My grandparents also couldn't use the land line for about an hour," another American living in Damascus told BBC News Online.

One local resident, who was near the attack, said his girlfriend had become hysterical following the blasts and had to be taken to hospital.

'Rumours are rife'

James Gordon, who teaches in the Mazze area, said the Syrian authorities were quick to impose tight security at the scene of the clash.

"The Syrians were really tough, security measures were harshly and immediately imposed," he said.

However, he said the attackers seemed to have only light weapons and hand grenades.

Mr Gordon's comments were echoed by another reader, who said the actual damage had been relatively light and that the attacks seemed "uncoordinated and botched".

He said the incident had, nonetheless, unnerved many city residents.

"Parades of military vehicles, blasting horns and singing nationalistic songs could be heard well into the early hours," he said.

"Rumours are rife and many are shocked that this land of peace and tranquillity could be breached."




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Kim Ghattas reports from Damascus
"The Syrian authorities are describing the violence as a terrorist incident"



SEE ALSO:
Syrian police clash with bombers
28 Apr 04  |  Middle East
Syria benefits from Iraq unrest
10 Apr 04  |  Middle East
'Five dead' in new Syria clashes
17 Mar 04  |  Middle East
Country profile: Syria
10 Feb 04  |  Country profiles


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