New chaos engulfed Syria’s civil war Monday as Palestinian supporters and opponents of the embattled regime were swept up in intense fighting in Damascus, while rival rebel groups clashed over control of a Turkish border crossing.
The rare infighting — accompanied by car bombs, airstrikes and artillery shells that killed or maimed dozens of people — heightened fears that if Syrian President Bashar Assad falls, the disparate factions battling the regime will turn on one another.
A suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden car near an army checkpoint in Hama province, killing 50 soldiers in one of the deadliest single attacks targeting pro- Assad troops in the 19-month uprising, according to activists. Eleven civilians died when a bomb exploded in a central Damascus neighborhood, state media said, and activists reported at least 20 rebels killed in an air raid on the northern town of Harem.
“It’s the worst-case scenario many feared in Syria,” said Fawaz Gerges, director of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics. “It’s an all-out war.”
The fighting in the capital of Damascus was some of the worst since July, when rebels took over several neighborhoods, only to be bombed out by regime forces days later. Shortly after those battles, rebels moved on Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, and it has become a major front in the civil war since then.
The attacks on the two main cities have demonstrated new organization and capabilities of rebel forces as well as a determination to press their uprising despite the deaths of more than 36,000 people in almost 20 months of fighting.
When Syria’s unrest began in March 2011, the country’s half-million Palestinians struggled to stay on the sidelines. But in recent months, many Palestinians started supporting the uprising although they insisted the opposition to the regime should be peaceful.