A small town once hummed with the life of 10,000 people. Now its empty buildings lie ruined while tanks lob shells.
At least 12 people have reportedly been killed and dozens wounded when a car bomb exploded at a funeral in Damascus, Syrian state television said.
The bomb targeted a funeral procession in the mainly Druze and Christian suburb of Jaramana on the southeastern outskirts of the Syrian capital on Tuesday, state TV said.
“Another 48 people were wounded,” state TV said, in what it called “a terrorist car blast”.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based opposition body which monitors the violence in Syria, said the attack targeted the funeral of two President Bashar al-Assad supporters who were killed in a bomb attack on Monday.
“In the suburb of Jaramana, a car laden with explosives hit a funeral held for two regime supporters,” said the watchdog.
“Dozens of people were injured in Tuesday’s blast, and several ambulances were seen at the site of the explosion,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP, adding that most of Jaramana’s residents support Assad’s regime.
Activists reported that a bombing in a Damascus suburb on Monday night killed two people, described as regime loyalists; and an improvised explosive device went off in the suburb of Jaramana, injuring several.
On Tuesday, several buildings in the area struck by the blast suffered heavy damage, said an AFP photographer at the scene, adding that that the facade of one building was completely destroyed.
The attack came amid a marked escalation of army shelling targeting the eastern belt of Damascus, home to some of the rebel Free Syrian Army’s best organised battalions.
Activists said Syrian fighter jets made rare sorties on the outskirts of Damascus on Monday, killing at least 60 people in its eastern suburbs, the same day a Syrian military helicopter crashed while under rebel fire.
They said aerial attacks by at least two fighter jets targeted the neighbourhood of Zamalka, and the more easterly suburb of Saqba, where Free Syrian Army fighters had attacked and overrun several army checkpoints earlier in the day.
Refugee influx into Turkey
The continuing violence comes as UN agencies said that around 214,000 people had already fled Syria.
The number of Syrian refugees in Turkey could reach 200,000 as the conflict deepens, the UN refugee agency said on Tuesday.
“The increase in the number of Syrians arriving in Turkey has been dramatic. Compared to previous weeks in which we saw about 400-500 people arriving a day, we’ve been seeing peaks of up to 5,000 people in one day over the past two weeks,” Melissa Fleming, chief spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a news briefing.
A growing number of unaccompanied children without parents are also turning up in camps, the UNHCR said.
“We are already looking at potentially up to 200,000 and are working with the Turkish government to make the necessary plans,” another spokeswoman, Sybella Wilkes, told Reuters.
Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr reports on the thousands of refugees stranded on the Turkish-Syrian border
The UN has registered 74,000 refugees in Turkey, but the overall number there could be as high as 80,000. Jordan is housing another 44,000; almost 40,000 are in Lebanon; and in Iraq, there are an estimated 15,000 refugees.
Turkey is rushing to build more camps to accommodate the influx, as recent reports said all nine Turkish refugee camps along the border with Syria were full.
Until recently, newcomers were being housed in schools, dormitories or sports centres near the border while Turkish authorities tried to construct four new camps that will increase Turkey’s capacity to 100,000 refugees.
The refugees still stuck on the Syrian side will be allowed in “within a day or two” when a new camp near the border becomes operational, a Turkish official said on Monday.
Turkey’s Red Crescent organisation was providing emergency aid to the refugees as they wait to cross into Turkey, the official said.
Another official said Turkey was also carrying out more stringent security checks on the refugees, adding to the delay in bringing them across the border. The tighter checks come amid Turkish fears that Kurdish fighters in southeast Turkey may be coming in through Syria. There are also concerns that foreign jihadists are moving in and out of Turkey to fight the Assad government.
Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, has meanwhile called on the UN to also establish refugee camps inside Syria, saying that his country would struggle to cope if the refugee numbers rise substantially.