Damascus: Twin bomb blasts killed 27 people and wounded almost 100 others in central Damascus on Saturday, state media said, as special envoy Kofi Annan geared up for a monitoring mission to end the year-long bloodshed in Syria. Russia condemned the decision, saying it was vital to keep communication open.
The early morning "terrorist" attacks, timed minutes apart, targeted criminal police headquarters in the Duwar al-Jamarek area and air force intelligence offices in Al-Qasaa district, state television said.
"Twenty-seven people, mostly civilians, were killed and 97 others wounded in the two explosions," Health Minister Wael al-Halaqi said on Syria News, another official channel, as angry residents vented their fury at Arab supporters of anti-regime activists.
"According to our initial information, they were car bombs," state television said.
The broadcaster ran footage of a charred body inside the mangled remains of a smouldering vehicle in Duwar al-Jamarek. "First pictures of the body of one of the terrorists who targeted Damascus on Saturday," a message on the screen read.
The front of a multi-storey building was gutted by the impact of the other blast and several cars destroyed. The television broadcast images of wrecked apartments and blood-splattered streets.
An anti-regime activist in Damascus, Abu Muhannad al-Mazzi, said the first blast struck at 7:30 am (0530 GMT). "A few minutes later, the second explosion, more powerful, rang out," he said.
The televisions showed an elderly woman being carried to an ambulance in her nightdress, while a wounded man, head bandaged and neck in a brace, was shown in hospital in his pyjamas and dressing gown.
Celebrations in Turkey
Turkey says it is now hosting 14,700 Syrian refugees after 250 people crossed its borders on Friday. Some 1,000 had arrived the day before, fleeing fierce fighting in Idlib province.
At a refugee camp near the village of Boynu Yogun, Syrians celebrated with songs and chants against Assad when they heard Erdogan's comments broadcast on live television.
"This is what we wanted from the beginning. We want all the civilians in this area protected," said Walid Hassan, one of the refugees, who fled Syria nine months ago.
Turkish officials were expected to discuss a buffer zone and other ideas at a meeting of Assad opponents in Istanbul on April 2. Turkey has become a hub of the anti-Assad movement, hosting the main opposition umbrella group and rebel Free Syrian Army.
As such, Ankara has a unique insight into the growing division among these groups that could complicate any establishment of a new administration in Damascus.
Pro-Assad supporters staged mass rallies around Syria on Thursday to mark the anniversary of the uprising, but anti-regime protesters were met with live fire when they tried to take to the streets, opponents said.
Gunfights in Syria
Activists said security forces fired heavily in southern Damascus's Qadam suburb on Friday to chase demonstrators off the streets. They also reported firing in the western suburb of Daraya and clashes with army deserters in Ghouta, east of the capital, which has seen gun battles in the past.
Reports from Syria cannot be independently verified as authorities have barred outside rights groups and journalists.
The Syrian government denies accusations of brutality against civilians. It says it is grappling with an insurgency by terrorists and foreign-backed militants.
Annan said he would dispatch advisers to Syria early next week for talks about sending international monitors, in the hope their presence would brake the violence and warned the situation was highly delicate.
"Yes, we tend to focus on Syria but any miscalculation that leads to major escalation will have impact in the region which would be extremely difficult to manage," Annan told reporters in Geneva after addressing the Security Council by video link.
The veteran diplomat presented Assad with a six-point peace proposal at talks in Damascus last weekend. Envoys said he told New York on Friday that the response to date was disappointing.
Underlining Assad's growing isolation, four members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) announced the closures of their embassies in protest against its violent crackdown, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said.
Kuwait, Oman, United Arab Emirates and Qatar were to follow in the footsteps of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and halt diplomatic activity in Syria, the GCC was quoted as saying in a statement.
Damascus: Twin bomb blasts killed 27 people and wounded almost 100 others in central Damascus on Saturday, state media said, as special envoy Kofi Annan geared up for a monitoring mission to end the year-long bloodshed in Syria.
Russia condemned the decision, saying it was vital to keep communication open.