40 dead as bombs tear through heart of Syria’s Aleppo

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Three car bombs tore into the heart of Aleppo Wednesday, killing at least 40 people and wounding 90, mostly soldiers, a watchdog said, as television broadcast scenes of devastation in Syria’s commercial capital.
In parts of the capital, meanwhile, troops were deployed in large numbers and set up many more roadblocks than usual, AFP correspondents said, even as Syria peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi readied a fresh bid to end the bloodshed.
Two car bombs exploded in quick succession around Aleppo’s Saadallah al-Jabiri Square 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.
“A medical source said that at least 40 people were killed and 90 injured,” said the Britain-based Observatory. “Most of them were regime troops.”
Official television channel Al-Ikhbariya said 31 people were killed and dozens wounded in “three terrorist explosions” in the city.
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, an AFP correspondent at the scene said, adding that a two-storey cafe collapsed completely.
“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, told AFP.
“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.
At least two buildings collapsed completely, and bloody corpses were laid out on the rubble, the footage showed. 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, also killing 27 people.
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.