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Syria: Explosions rock army HQ in Damascus

Witnesses said the blasts set off hours of sporadic gunbattles and a raging fire inside the heavily guarded compound.

Black smoke rises from Syria's army command headquarters in Damascus, Syria
Black smoke rises from Syria's army command headquarters in Damascus, Syria
Image: AP Photo/Syria 2011 Archives via AP video

TWIN BLASTS TARGETING Syria’s army command headquarters rocked the capital today, setting off hours of sporadic gunbattles and a raging fire inside the heavily guarded compound, state-run media and witnesses said.

An army statement said no military commanders or personnel were hurt in the explosions, one of which was from a car bomb.

But Iranian Press TV said one of its correspondents, 33-year-old Maya Nasser, a Syrian national, died in an exchange of fire in the area following the blasts.

Rebels

Syria’s state-run news agency, SANA, said the explosions struck just before 7 am local time near the landmark Omayyad Square.

Rebels from the Free Syrian Army claimed responsibility for the bombings in a statement signed by the group’s military council, saying dozens were killed in the attack.

The army command building was in flames, sending huge columns of thick black smoke that hung over Damascus for several hours following the blasts.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists on the ground, said heavy clashes were taking place inside the compound of the army command, adding that there were casualties on both sides.

Car bomb

The army statement said the blasts were caused by a car bomb and an explosive device that went off near the army command buildings. It said “terrorists” in the area simultaneously opened fire randomly to terrorize people, adding that authorities were pursuing the gunmen. Syrian authorities regularly refer to rebels as terrorists.

The statement said a number of guards were wounded.

“I can confirm that all our comrades in the military command and defence ministry are fine,” Information Minister Omran Zoubi told Syrian TVl.

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

On Tuesday, 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.

General Assembly

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 gathering of world leaders that the 18-month conflict had become “a regional calamity with global ramifications.”

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 Assad to end the violence and enter negotiations on a political transition.

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

Read: Syria war rages on, UN chief warns of calamity>

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