Blasts hit army headquarters in Damascus

Two massive explosions rocked the heart of Damascus today, striking near the army and air force command headquarters and sending huge columns of thick black smoke over the Syrian capital.

Blasts hit army headquarters in Damascus

Two massive explosions rocked the heart of Damascus today, striking near the army and air force command headquarters and sending huge columns of thick black smoke over the Syrian capital.

The bombings were the latest to hit the city as the uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime intensifies, highlighting the increasingly deep reach of the rebels determined to topple him.

Syria’s state-run news agency Sana said a fire broke out in the area after the twin blasts, which struck just before 7am local time (4am Irish time) near the landmark Omayyad square.

The explosions shattered the windows of nearby buildings, including the entire façade of the Dama Rose hotel which overlooks the area, and were heard several miles away.

Information Minister Omran Zoubi said the blasts were caused by two “large, highly explosive” improvised devices, one of which may have been placed “on the inner side of the fence” around the grounds of the army command building. He said the damage inflicted was material and there were no casualties.

“I can confirm that all our comrades in the military command and defence ministry are fine,” he told Syrian TV, which is located near the site of the explosion, in a telephone call.

“Everything is normal,” he said. “There was a terrorist act, perhaps near a significant location, yes, this is true, but they failed as usual to achieve their goals.”

Black smoke rose high into the air and ambulances were rushed to the site as police sealed off the area to traffic and journalists.

Witnesses said the explosions were followed by heavy gunfire, suggesting security forces clashed with gunmen in the high security area.

Syria’s unrest began in March 2011 when protests calling for political change met a violent government crackdown. Many in the opposition have since taken up arms as the conflict morphed into a civil war that activists say has killed nearly 30,000 people.

Over the past few months, the rebels have increasingly targeted security sites and symbols of regime power in a bid to turn the tide in the fighting.

On July 18, rebels penetrated the heart of Syria’s power elite, detonating a bomb inside a high-level crisis meeting in Damascus which killed three top regime officials, including Mr Assad’s brother-in-law and the defence minister.

Other large blasts have targeted the headquarters of security agencies in the capital, killing scores of people this year.

And yesterday, several bombs went off inside a Damascus school that activists said was being used by regime forces as a security headquarters. Several people were wounded.

Syria’s conflict was the focus of attention as world leaders gathered at the UN General Assembly’s annual meeting in New York this week.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demanded international action to stop the war in Syria, telling a sombre gathering of world leaders yesterday that the 18-month conflict had become “a regional calamity with global ramifications”.

Mr Ban, declaring that the situation in Syria is getting worse every day, called the conflict a serious and growing threat to international peace and security that requires attention from the deeply divided UN Security Council.

That appears highly unlikely, however, at least in the near future.

Russia and China have vetoed three Western-backed resolutions aimed at pressuring Mr Assad to end the violence and enter negotiations on a political transition, leaving the UN’s most powerful body paralysed in what some diplomats say is the worst crisis since the US-Soviet stand-off during the Cold War.

In sharp contrast to the UN chief, President Barack Obama pledged US support for Syrians trying to oust Mr Assad – “a dictator who massacres his own people”.

Information minister Omran Zoubi said the blasts were caused by two roadside bombs, adding that one of them might have been placed inside the grounds of the army command headquarters.

The explosions went off minutes apart just before 7am local time near Omayyad square, shattering the windows of nearby buildings, and were heard several miles away.

The explosions were followed by gunfire, witnesses said, suggesting security forces clashed with gunmen in the high security area.

The Syrian capital has been hit by a series of car bombs and roadside bombings in the past few months as the uprising against president Bashar Assad’s regime intensifies.

Syria’s unrest began in March last year when protests calling for political change met a violent government crackdown. Many in the opposition have taken up arms as the conflict has morphed into a civil war that activists say has killed nearly 30,000 people.

On July 18, rebels penetrated the heart of Syria’s power elite, detonating a bomb inside a high-level crisis meeting in Damascus that killed three senior regime officials, including Assad’s brother-in-law and the defence minister.

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