A passenger train derailed and caught fire in central Syria Saturday, killing the driver and injuring 14 passengers, after "saboteurs" tore out part of the tracks, Syrian officials said.
Authorities quickly seized on the incident to blame the four-month-old uprising against President Bashar Assad, saying gunmen and criminals were taking advantage of demonstrations to commit terrorist acts targeting innocent people. No evidence was provided to support those claims.
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Ghassan Mustafa Abdul-Aal, the governor of the flashpoint city of Homs near the crash site, called it a "terrorist and criminal" act and said it was a "clear message" to everyone who says the protest movement calling for Assad's ouster is peaceful.
The train, which was carrying 480 passengers and five crew members, was traveling from the northeastern city of Aleppo to the capital Damascus.
The Information Ministry took Syrian journalists to the site to survey the damage: Several white-and-red carriages that had jumped the tracks and one overturned and charred carriage.
The journalists were shown tire tracks left by motorcycles that officials claimed the saboteurs used to reach the tracks. The rails themselves were ripped apart using what appeared to be wrenches.
"This crime was meant to kill 485 Syrian citizens today," said George al-Qaabari, head of the Syrian railway. "We ask the American and French ambassadors who say the protests are peaceful, is this peaceful?"
Al-Qaabari alleged the saboteurs chose Saturday, when many people would be returning from their weekend break to Damascus, for maximum damage. He said it was "divine intervention" that kept the loss of live to a minimum.
Syrian authorities have unleashed a brutal crackdown in an effort to crush the revolt, and activists say more than 1,600 civilians have died since the protests erupted in mid-March. The government blames the unrest on terrorists and foreign extremists, not true reform-seekers, and has taken pains to portray itself as the only guardian against civil war.
Two special advisers to UN chief Ban Ki-moon warned that there was a "serious possibility" that Syria has committed crimes against humanity.
In a statement, Francis Deng, the adviser on preventing genocide, and Edward Luck, the adviser of the responsibility to protect civilians in conflict, pointed Friday to "persistent reports of widespread and systematic human rights violations by Syrian security forces responding to anti-government protests across the country."
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