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Syria state news agency says 'terrorist explosions' hit Damascus
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) ' Twin bombings struck government targets in the Syrian capital early Saturday, killing security forces and civilians and leaving pools of blood and carnage in the streets, according to state-run television.
A Syrian official said there were reports of a third blast targeting a military bus at the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, but there were no details. He asked that his name not be used because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
The violence comes as the country's yearlong uprising, which started with mostly peaceful protests, descends into a nascent civil war involving large-scale government assaults on rebel-held cities. President Bashar Assad's regime blamed the explosions in Damascus on the "terrorist forces" that it claims are behind the revolt.
The bombings were the latest in a string of suicide attacks in Syria, which have killed dozens of people since late December.
Nobody has claimed responsibility for the attacks. The regime has said the blasts are proof that it is being targeted by "terrorists." The opposition, however, accuses forces loyal to the government of being behind the bombings to tarnish the uprising.
According to the state-run news agency, SANA, preliminary information indicated two blasts were caused by car bombs that hit the aviation intelligence department and the criminal security department at around 7:30 a.m local time. Shooting broke out soon after the blast and sent residents and others who had gathered in the area fleeing, an Associated Press reporter at the scene said.
SANA posted gruesome photographs of the scene Saturday, with mangled and charred corpses, bloodstains on the streets and twisted steel.
"All our windows and doors are blown out," said Majed Seibiyah, 29, who lives in the area. "I was sleeping when I heard a sound like an earthquake. I didn't grasp what was happening until I hear screaming in the street."
The Syrian government denies there is a popular will behind the uprising, saying foreign extremists and gangs are trying to destroy the country. But his opponents deny that and say an increasingly active rebel force has been driven to take up arms because the government used tanks, snipers and machine guns to crush peaceful protests.
The U.N. estimates that more that 8,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad began last March.
The last major suicide bombing in Syria happened on Feb. 10, when twin blasts struck security compounds in the government stronghold of Aleppo in northern Syria, killing 28 people. Damascus, another Assad stronghold, has seen three suicide previous bombings since December.
In recent weeks, Syrian forces have waged a series of heavy offensives against the main strongholds of the opposition ' Homs in central Syria, Idlib in the north and Daraa in the south.
The bloodshed fuels the country's sectarian tensions. The military's top leadership is stacked heavily with members of the minority Alawite sect, to which Assad and the ruling elite belong.
Sunnis are the majority in the country of 22 million and make up the backbone of the opposition.
Diplomatic efforts to solve the crisis have so far brought no result. But U.N. envoy Kofi Annan told the Security Council in a briefing Friday that he would return to Damascus even though his recent talks with Assad saw no progress in attempts to cobble together peace negotiations between the two sides.
After the confidential briefing via videolink, Annan told reporters in Geneva that he urged the council "to speak with one voice as we try to resolve the crisis in Syria." Russia and China have blocked U.N. action against Assad's regime.
"The first objective is for all of us to end the violence and human rights abuses and the killings and get unimpeded access for humanitarian access to the needy, and of course the all-important issue of political process that will lead to a democratic Syria," Annan said.
Both Assad and much of the opposition spurned Annan's appeal for talks.
Associated Press writer Albert Aji contributed to this story from Damascus, Syria.