Syria car bombings kill more than two dozen in Aleppo
BEIRUT — A series of car bombs exploded in the embattled Syrian city of Aleppo early Wednesday, killing more than two dozen people, injuring many more and causing massive damage.
Suicide car bombers struck Saadallah al Jabri Square, the city’s largest plaza and once the site of huge pro-government rallies, the official Syrian Arab News Agency said. The agency put the death toll at 34, though other reports indicated that 40 or more had been killed, and said 122 were injured.
Later, Turkey said it responded with artillery fire into Syria after the Turkish border town of Akcakale was shelled, killing five people. A statement from the office of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly said the Turkish artillery had fired “on points in Syria that were detected with radar, in line with the rules of engagement.”
There was no immediate response from Syria.
PHOTOS: Living under siege: Life in Aleppo, Syria
Video on Syrian television showed a devastating tableau in Aleppo: Four- and five-story buildings with their facades blown off, bodies laid out on rubble-strewn streets, and dazed and bloodied survivors wandering amid the ruins as the dead and living were plucked from piles of debris.
Activists opposed to President Bashar Assad reported that a site described as a military officers club — a possible target of the attacks — was among the buildings destroyed.
Four car bombs exploded in Aleppo, three detonated by suicide bombers and a fourth detonated remotely, the official news agency reported. Attackers also launched mortar rounds into the square, the official news service said.
The explosions occurred in a government-controlled section of the divided city, roughly split in half between opposition forces and the Syrian military.
By night, hours after the explosions, no group had claimed responsibility.
“We have become accustomed to these bombings and there are only two sides that have the ability to do these kinds of operations: either the regime or Jubhat al Nusra,” an activist who goes by Abo Adel said, referring to an Al Qaeda-affiliated group that has taken root in the Syrian conflict in recent months. “They are the only ones who have expertise in this area.”
Syrian state television blamed “terrorists,” the government designation for armed rebels, for the explosions.
Syrian insurgents, outgunned by better-armed government forces, regularly deploy car bombs — sometimes with suicide drivers — and homemade roadside explosives in their fight to oust Assad.
The government has attacked with tanks, helicopter gunships and jet fighters.
The site of the blasts is both a strategic and symbolic square, an area that rebel forces have had their sights on since clashes began in Aleppo.
Insurgents and the Syrian military have been engaged in urban combat for more than two months in a bruising battle for control of Syria’s most populous city and its commercial hub. Opposition forces declared a “decisive” new offensive last week aimed at taking full control of Aleppo.
Long spared the worst of Syria’s fighting, Aleppo has recently mutated into a treacherous theater of war where hidden snipers lurk in buildings, armed men roam the streets and bombs and artillery shells drop from the sky. Many districts have suffered extensive damage.
Aleppo has long been a bastion of support for Assad. Many residents are hostile to the rebel forces, who hail mostly from outside the city.
Wednesday’s blasts were not far from Aleppo’s Old City, once a major tourist attraction. The Old City is an United Nations-designated heritage site, attesting to Aleppo’s legacy as a cosmopolitan trading center along the Silk Road from China.
Fighting last weekend left fires blazing in the Old City’s historic covered bazaar, the Souk Madina, causing global consternation among preservationists. Hundreds of shops situated beneath the market’s vaulted stone archways were reportedly destroyed. Heavy fighting in the area has hindered efforts to determine the extent of the damage.
There have been unconfirmed reports that Assad has ordered new government reinforcements into Aleppo, about 200 miles north of Damascus, the capital. Losing Aleppo could be a fatal blow for the beleaguered government of Assad, whose family has ruled Syria in autocratic fashion for more than 40 years.
Some activists believe Jubhat al Nusra was behind Wednesday’s explosions.
“These issues of explosions and Jubhat al Nusra and Al Qaeda are very frightening,” Abo Adel said. “If the situation continues like this then all of Syria will go to Al Qaeda. We all have a fear that Syria will become another Afghanistan.”
Hundreds of thousands of residents have fled Aleppo amid the fighting since the rebellion erupted 18 months ago. Aid groups have voiced concern about a humanitarian catastrophe if the fighting continues.
More than 20,000 Syrians have been killed, according to estimates. The fighting has displaced more than 1 million people, by some estimates as many as 3 million; an estimated 500,000 have fled to neighboring nations, where many are housed in spartan refugee camps.
The deadly shelling in Akcakale, which Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency said came from the Syrian military, also injured at least eight Turks, including several police officers. The incident provoked outrage in Turkey, with residents of the town marching on the offices of the district governor and demanding action.
Syrian rebels had previously occupied the town of Tal Abyad, just across the border from Akcakale. Syrian forces had been shelling the Syrian town in an apparent attempt to target rebels.
Turkey has beefed up its forces along its long border with Syria after several cross-border incidents stemming from Syria’s civil strife. In June, Syrian antiaircraft batteries shot down a Turkish fighter jet off the Syrian coast. Two Turkish pilots were killed in that incident.
World leaders have repeatedly voiced concern that the Syrian conflict could spread to neighboring nations, destabilizing much of the Mideast. But all diplomatic efforts at the United Nations and elsewhere aimed at brokering a cease-fire have failed.
Special correspondent Rima Marrouch and a Times staff writer in Beirut contributed to this report.
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