48 feared dead as car bombs explode in Aleppo, Syria
At least two buildings collapse as heart of Syria's second city is blasted; 100 reported wounded
Three car bombs tore into the heart of Syria's second city Aleppo, killing almost 50 people, as the regime launched an offensive against rebels near Damascus, a watchdog said.
Rebel fighters killed at least 15 soldiers yesterday when they attacked military posts in the northwest of the country, triggering fierce clashes, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
And the bloodshed spilled across the Syrian border when several shells from the conflict crashed into the Turkish town of Akcakale, killing at least five people and wounding nine, witnesses said.
Two car bombs exploded in quick succession around Aleppo's Saadallah al-Jabiri Square in the city centre near a military officers' club and a hotel.
A third bomb went off soon afterwards at the nearby Bab Jnein district at an entrance to the Old City, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a military source said.
At least 48 people were killed and almost 100 wounded, the Britain-based Observatory said, citing medics. "Most of them were regime troops," it added.
An official in Aleppo put the toll at "37 dead and dozens injured".
The government blames the violence that has rocked Syria since March last year on "terrorists" it says are armed and sponsored by foreign powers.
Near the officers' club, part of the facade of a hotel was destroyed by the force of the blasts. A two-storey cafe collapsed.
"We heard two enormous explosions, as though the gates of hell were opening," Hassan, a 30-year-old man who works in a nearby hotel, said.
"I saw thick smoke, and I helped a woman on the pavement whose arms and legs were completely dislocated," said Hassan, who gave only one name.
A shopowner whose store is located a block away from the officers' club said: "I pulled out from the rubble a child less than 10 years old who has lost a leg."
Al-Ikhbariya television had shown massive destruction in the square. At least two buildings collapsed completely, and bloody corpses were laid out on the rubble. "There are still people trapped under the rubble!" called out men in the square, as the channel showed people evacuating some of the victims.
The bombings were the deadliest in Syria's raging civil war since August 28, when a car bomb targeted the funeral of two government loyalists in a Damascus suburb, killing 27 people.
On July 18, rebels carried out a massive bombing on a complex in Damascus, killing four security chiefs, including President Bashar al-Assad's brother-in-law and the defence minister.
Bombings have increasingly become part of the unrest ravaging Syria, which began in March last year as peaceful protests for reform but has since morphed into an armed insurgency, with more than 31,000 people killed, according to activists.
Aleppo, with a population of 1.7 million people, has been one of the focal points of the conflict since mid-July, when the army promised the "mother of all battles" to clear the city of rebels.
In the past week, the fighting has become more intense, spilling at the weekend into the centuries-old Unesco-listed souk (market) in the heart of Aleppo and sparking a fire that damaged hundreds of shops.
Pro-regime daily Al-Watan reported on Tuesday that extra troops were being sent to Aleppo.
Officials said Brahimi, the UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria, was due back in the region this week to try to revive talks aimed at ending the bloodshed.
Jan Eliasson, deputy to the UN chief hoped to persuade the Assad regime to "go in the direction of a reduction of violence".
Additional reporting by Associated Press