AMMAN, Jordan — A car bomb ripped through Aleppo, Syria's largest city, on Sunday, killing at least 17 people and wounding 40 in one of the main battlegrounds of the country's civil war, state media said.
Al-Qaida-style bombings have become increasingly common in Syria, and Western officials say there is little doubt that Islamist extremists, some associated with the terror network, have made inroads in the country as instability has spread. But the main fighting force looking to oust President Bashar Assad is the Free Syrian Army, a group largely made up of defected Syrian soldiers.
Sunday's blast came hours after a Jordanian militant leader linked to al-Qaida warned that his extremist group would launch "deadly attacks" to help the rebels in Syria topple Assad.
In a speech delivered to a crowd of nearly 200 followers protesting outside the prime minister's office in Amman, Mohammad al-Shalabi, better known as Abu Sayyaf, told Assad "our fighters are coming to get you."
The fight for Aleppo, a city of 3 million that was once a bastion of support for Assad, is critical for both the regime and the opposition. Its fall would give the opposition a major strategic victory with a stronghold in the north near the Turkish border. A rebel defeat, at the very least, would buy Assad more time.
State-run TV aired footage of fire trucks trying to extinguish the blaze and rescue workers digging through mounds of rubble left by the car bomb. Syria's official news agency, SANA quoted Aleppo Gov. Mohammed Wahid Akkad as saying the 17 dead were civilians.
No group claimed responsibility for the attack. SANA blamed terrorists, the term the regime uses for rebels. Opposition activists could not be reached.
Fighting also raged elsewhere in Syria, with at least 58 people reported killed and scores wounded, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group. That figure excluded the car bomb.
On the diplomatic front, Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi criticized France, saying its growing support for the opposition does nothing but hinder the mission of the new U.N.-Arab League envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, who is tasked with brokering a diplomatic solution.
France, once Syria's colonial ruler, has been one of the most outspoken Western critics of the Assad regime and announced this month that it has begun sending direct aid and money to five rebel-held Syrian cities as part of intensified efforts to weaken Assad. It was the first such move by a Western power.