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30 killed after suicide bombers strike Syrian capital


Syrian security forces gather in front the main judicial building in Damascus (SANA/AP)

Syrian security forces gather in front the main judicial building in Damascus (SANA/AP)

Syrian security forces gather in front the main judicial building in Damascus (SANA/AP)

At least 30 people have died after suicide bombers hit the main judicial building and a restaurant in the Syrian capital Damascus.

The incidents, in which 45 other people were hurt, spread fear across the city as the country's civil war entered its seventh year with no end in sight.

The attacks bore the hallmarks of Syria's al-Qaida affiliate and reflect a renewed effort by the extremist group to use insurgent tactics against president Bashar Assad's forces in a bid to recover lost momentum.

The first attacker, reportedly dressed in a military uniform, struck inside the justice palace, located near the crowded Hamidiyeh market.

The explosion left bodies lying amid pools of blood and shattered glass in the building's main hall, where a picture of Mr Assad hung on the wall.

About an hour later, another suicide blast struck a restaurant in the Rabweh district of Damascus, an area known for its restaurants and cafes, leading to multiple casualties - mostly women and children.

Syrian TV showed overturned plastic chairs and tables at the restaurant with bloodstains on the floor.

The Ikhbariyeh TV channel said the attacker was being chased by security agents when he ran into a restaurant and detonated his explosives vest.

The bombings were the latest in a spate of deadly explosions and suicide attacks targeting government-controlled areas in Syria and its capital.

Syria's attorney general, Ahmad al-Sayed, who was in the judicial building just a few yards away from the explosion, said of the attack: "This is a dirty action as people who enter the palace are innocent."

He noted that the timing of the explosion was planned to kill the largest number of lawyers, judges and other people who were there at the time.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for either attack, but other, similar attacks in recent weeks were claimed by al-Qaida's affiliate in Syria, which has come under pressure lately amid infighting with other insurgent factions in Syria and air strikes by the US-led coalition.

The attacks came as Syrians mark the sixth anniversary of the country's civil war, which has killed more than 400,000 people and displaced millions of others.

The conflict began in March 2011 as a popular uprising against Mr Assad's rule, but quickly descended into a full-blown civil war that has left large parts of the country in ruins. The chaos allowed al-Qaida and later Islamic State (IS) to gain a foothold in the war-torn nation.

Russia and Turkey, who back opposing sides of the conflict, have been working together to launch a political track focused initially on a cease-fire in Syria, and the UN's Syria envoy held another round of peace talks in Geneva recently, but the talks have gone nowhere.

Militant groups such as IS and the Nusra Front, now known as the Levant Liberation Committee, are not part of those talks.

The recent attacks have struck at highly symbolic targets, and may mark the start of a new insurgency campaign by the al-Qaida-linked militants to try and counter recent military advances by Mr Assad's forces, backed by Russia and Iran.

Wednesday's bombings followed twin attacks on Saturday near holy shrines frequented by Shias in Damascus which killed at least 40 people.

On February 25, insurgents stormed into heavily guarded security offices in Syria's central city of Homs, clashed with government troops and then blew themselves up, killing a senior officer and at least 31 others in a major security breach. Both attacks were claimed by the Levant Liberation Committee.

Elsewhere in Syria, at least 15 children and seven other civilians were killed in an air strike on the rebel-held city of Idlib, according to civil defence search-and-rescue group.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said 21 civilians were killed. It said the aircraft behind the attack were believed to be Russian. Syrian government aircraft are also known to fly raids over Idlib.

Wednesday's attacks coincided with a new round of peace talks in the Kazakh capital of Astana which were boycotted by Syria's armed opposition due to what they say are ongoing government military offensives across the country.

Syria's UN ambassador said earlier that he was concluding his participation in the latest round after two days of meetings without rebels.

Bashar Jaafari said discussions were "constructive" but only one official paper was produced - concerning de-mining Palmyra, the historic Syrian town which pro-government forces recaptured from IS two weeks ago.

PA Media