20 soldiers killed in Syria blasts
Suicide car bombings have ripped through a Syrian government base in the southern city of Daraa, killing at least 20 soldiers in the latest in a series of explosions targeting regime forces and symbols of state security across the country.
The explosions were followed by clashes between regime forces and rebels fighting to topple president Bashar Assad, activists said.
Daraa was the birthplace of the uprising against Assad, which erupted in March 2011. The conflict began largely with peaceful protests against his rule but morphed into a civil war after rebels took up arms in response to the regime's crackdown.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists on the ground, said two suicide bombers drove their explosives-laden cars into a military encampment behind the officer's club in quick succession. It said at least 20 soldiers were killed, most in the second explosion.
"I heard two very loud explosions and a third smaller one followed by bursts of gunfire," said Mohammad Abu Houran, an activist in Daraa. He said the first two were likely to have been car bombs and the third a mortar shell or rocket-propelled grenade.
Abu Houran said black smoke could be seen over the high-security area, which was sealed off, and heavy shooting could be heard from the area for about 10 minutes after the explosions.
Bombings targeting state security institutions have become frequent in recent months, often hitting military intelligence branches in Damascus and other cities. Most dramatically in July, rebels detonated explosives inside a high-level crisis meeting in Damascus, killing four top regime officials including Assad's brother-in-law and the defence minister.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest attack in Daraa, but Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaida-inspired extremist group that is fighting alongside the rebels, has said it was responsible for similar bombings in the past.
The targeted area is considered a high-security zone that houses a branch of the country's Military Intelligence as well as an officer's club where dozens of regime forces are based. Around 30 tanks that regime forces use to shell Daraa and surrounding areas are also stationed in a nearby stadium, activists said.
In other violence, Syrian TV said a locally made rocket slammed into a four-story residential building in the district of al-Qassaa in the capital of Damascus, wounding two young women. The TV blamed "terrorists" for the attack in the predominantly Christian residential area - the term used by the Syrian government to describe rebels.