Friday, February 23, 2018

Bombings strike previously calm Syrian city of Aleppo

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Two explosions struck compounds housing security services in the Syrian city of Aleppo on Friday, reportedly killing 28 people and wounding 238 in the worst violence to hit the country's relatively calm commercial capital since the uprising began last March.

The attacks coincided with the continuation of an offensive against the central city of Homs, where activists claim hundreds have been killed in the sustained bombardment of neighborhoods loyal to the opposition during the past week.

The attacks in Aleppo, reported by state media, pointed to the danger that the violence now gripping the country will escalate and spread even as the government seeks to crush the revolt against President Bashar Assad's rule.

The official news agency SANA said two "terrorist" attacks targeted a military security branch and a law enforcement headquarters in the center of Aleppo, a mostly middle-class mercantile city whose citizens have largely refrained from taking part in the mass antigovernment demonstrations that have swept much of the rest of the country.

But in recent weeks there have been signs that the unrest is reaching into Aleppo, with protests erupting in several suburbs.

The Free Syrian Army, the fledgling rebel army that has strengthened as the opposition increasingly resorts to arms, recently announced it had formed an Aleppo battalion.

Free Syrian Army spokesman Col. Malik al-Kurdi denied that rebels had carried out the bombings, but he said Free Syrian army soldiers had staged attacks against Syrian security forces immediately beforehand.

The attacks echoed a similar double bombing against security force branches on Dec. 23 in Damascus, which was attributed to suicide bombers and killed 44 people. Twenty-six more died in a bombing Jan. 6 that targeted police outside a mosque where protests typically occur.

The government blamed al-Qaida for those attacks, but the opposition accused the authorities of carrying them out to taint the protest movement.

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