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Published: Thursday, 5/10/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Syria's health minister says 55 killed in deadliest assault on capital since uprising began

ASSOCIATED PRESS

DAMASCUS, Syria—Two suicide blasts ripped through the Syrian capital Thursday, killing 55 people and leaving scenes of carnage in the streets in the deadliest bombing attack since the country's uprising began 14 months ago, the Interior Ministry said.

An Associated Press reporter at the scene said paramedics wearing rubber gloves were collecting human remains from the pavement after the explosions. Heavily damaged cars and pickup trucks stood smoldering in the area. The blasts ripped the facade off a military intelligence building, which appeared to be the target of the attack.

More than 370 people also were wounded in the attack, the Interior Ministry said in a statement. The ministry, which is in charge of the country's internal security, said the explosives weighed more than 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds)

Central Damascus is under the tight control of forces loyal to President Bashar Assad but has been struck by several bomb attacks, often targeting security installations or convoys, since the revolt against him began in March 2011.

The government blames the bombings on the terrorists it says are behind the uprising, which has been the most potent challenge to the Assad family dynasty in Syria in four decades. But opposition leaders and activists routinely blame the regime for orchestrating the attacks, saying they help it demonize the opposition and maintain support among those who fear greater instability.

There was no claim of responsibility for Thursday's blasts. But an al-Qaida-inspired group has claimed responsibility for several past explosions, raising fears that terrorist groups are entering the fray and exploiting the chaos.

Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, the Norwegian head of the U.N.'s cease-fire monitors in the country, toured the site Thursday and said the Syrian people do not deserve this "terrible violence."

"It is not going to solve any problems," he said, when asked what his message was to those who are carrying out such attacks. "It is only going to create more suffering for women and children."

The relentless violence in the country has brought a cease-fire plan brokered by special envoy Kofi Annan to the brink of collapse.

On Thursday, Annan appealed for calm and an end to bloodshed.

"The Syrian people have already suffered too much," Annan said in a statement.

Thursday's explosions went off seconds apart at about 7:50 a.m. during the morning rush hour. Witnesses said the first explosion attracted curious passers-by. But seconds later, the second, far larger explosion went off, causing massive damage.

Syrian TV showed shaken young girls in tears who said they were in the Qazaz First Elementary School when the blast occurred. An hour after the blast, the school's gates were closed and no one was inside.

The explosions left two craters at the gate of the military compound, one of them 3 meters (10 feet) deep and 6 meters (20 feet) wide.

"The house shook like it was an earthquake," housewife Maha Hijazi said as she stood outside her house across the street from the targeted compound.

The latest major explosion in the capital occurred on April 27 when a suicide bomber detonated an explosives belt near members of the security forces, killing at least nine people and wounding 26.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi posted a message on his Facebook page urging people to go to hospitals to donate blood.

The previous deadliest attack in Damascus occurred on Dec. 23, when two car bombers blew themselves up outside the heavily guarded compounds of Syria's intelligence agencies, killing at least 44 people.

On March, 17, two suicide car bombers struck in near-simultaneous attacks on heavily guarded intelligence and security buildings in Damascus, killing at least 27 people. On Jan. 6, an explosion at a Damascus intersection killed 26, including many policemen.



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