Two explosions in Damascus kill more than 55 people and injure hundreds more. The blasts happened in an area housing a military intelligence complex.
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Syrian television blamed "terrorists" for the rush-hour blasts on the southern edge of the city and showed dozens of mangled, burnt and smouldering vehicles at the site of one of the blasts, some containing incinerated human remains.
The explosions come a day after a bomb exploded near UN observers, and are the deadliest attack in Damascus since the uprising began 14 months ago, wounding 372 people.
Both sides of the Syrian conflict agreed to a ceasefire beginning April 12, which the UN is monitoring, but violence has continued across Syria. Each side blamed the other for Thursday's attack.
International mediator Kofi Annan had brokered the peace deal and condemned the attacks as "abhorrent".
"The Syrian people have already suffered too much," he said in a statement.
Opposition to Assad, which began with peaceful protests in March last year, has grown increasingly militarised, as has the government's response to protests, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said this week he was worried by an "alarming upsurge" in bombings.
Thursday's explosions happened almost simultaneously in the same area during morning rush-hour, shortly before 8am local time. Video footage sent to media by activists showed two columns of smoke rising into the sky, one of them forming a dark heavy cloud.
State television showed a large crater in the road and at least one lorry had been overturned. Walls of buildings on either side of wide avenue had collapsed.
Foreign Secretary William Hague condemned the attacks: "Yet again it is the people of Syria who are suffering as a result of the repression and violence, which must come to an end.
"As Kofi Annan made clear to the UN Security Council earlier this week, the onus is on the Syrian authorities to implement a full ceasefire and begin the political dialogue required by the Annan Plan."
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 849 people - 628 civilians and 221 soldiers, of whom 31 were defectors - had been killed since the April 12 ceasefire. The count did not include Thursday's deaths.
Channel 4 News' Foreign Correspondent Jonathan Rugman writes:
"Not much is known about the group most likely responsible for today's attacks, writes Foreign Correspondent Jonathan Rugman. Its name is the Support Front for the People of Syria - or Jabhat al-Nusra li-Ahl al-Sham.
In the group's first jihadist video, released on January 23, you can see men posing with pistols and kalashnikovs claiming to be the 'sword of the Islamic nation'. They look remarkably similar to the jihadist fighters who fought against the American-led occupation of Iraq, though their goal is an Islamic state to replace the regime of Presdient Bashar al-Assad.
Another video, released in February, apparently contains the voice of the group's leader Abu Mohamed Al Julani. He claims responsibility for an attack on another intelligence building, this time in Aleppo, where 28 people died. "We hope the regime tasted some of the pain they caused the children of Homs," he says.
The group says it has carried out a string of suicide bombings, including one in Damascus on April 27. If the same people are behind today's carnage, a new and frightening chapter in Syria's possible disintegration may have opened. The regime's brutality has perhaps given birth to the very monster it feared - an Al Qaeda-style insurgency."
'Alarming upsurge' of violence
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least one of the explosions was caused by a car bomb and that the target was intelligence buildings.
The blasts caused limited damage to the facade of the nearby Palestine Branch Military Intelligence complex, one resident told Reuters. The Palestine Branch is one of the most feared among the more than 20 secret police organisations in the country.
The Damascus blasts came a day after Ban Ki-moon told the UN General Assembly he was worried by the increase in bomb attacks in Syria.
"There is no escaping the reality that we see every day," he said.
"Innocent civilians dying, government troops and heavy armour in city streets, growing numbers of arrests and allegations of brutal torture, an alarming upsurge in the use of IEDs [roadside bombs] and other explosive devices throughout the country."
The UN says Syrian forces have killed more than 9,000 people in their crackdown on the protests. Syrian authorities blame foreign-backed Islamist militants for the violence, saying they have killed 2,600 soldiers and police.
26 April 2012
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