BEIRUT - Two explosions shook the Syrian capital Damascus on Thursday killing and wounding dozens of people, state media said, in a district that houses a military intelligence complex involved in President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown on a 14-month uprising.
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.
Thursday's explosions came a day after a bomb exploded near U.N. monitors observing implementation of a U.N. ceasefire plan and less than two weeks after Syrian authorities said a suicide bomber killed at least nine people in Damascus.
Opposition to Assad, which began with peaceful protests in March last year, has grown increasingly militarised and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said this week he was worried by an "alarming upsurge" in bombings.
Damascus residents said Thursday's explosions happened almost simultaneously in the same area shortly before 8 a.m. (6 a.m. British 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.
Shooting could be heard in the background.
A man walking around the wreckage pointed at the charred remains of cars. "Is this freedom?" he said. "This is the work of the Saudis," he added, referring to the Gulf state that has advocated arming rebels seeking to oust Assad.
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 United Nations 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.
A U.N. brokered ceasefire was supposed to come into force four weeks ago but, despite an initial drop in the level of violence, the bloodshed has continued. Activists say government forces have shelled several cities, and rebels have maintained attacks on security forces.
The Damascus blasts came a day after Ban told the U.N. 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 and other explosive devices throughout the country."