By Dominic Evans and Crispian Balmer
BEIRUT | Sat Mar 17, 2012 3:37pm EDT
(Reuters) – Two explosions struck the heart of Damascus on Saturday, killing at least 27 people in an attack on security installations that state television blamed on “terrorists” seeking to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Cars packed with explosives targeted the criminal police headquarters and an air security intelligence centre at 7.30 a.m. (0530 GMT), television said, shredding the facade of one building and sending debris flying through the streets.
Gruesome images from the sites showed what appeared to be smoldering bodies in two separate vehicles, a wrecked minivan smeared with blood, and severed limbs collected in sacks.
At least 27 people were killed and 140 wounded, an interior ministry statement said.
“We heard a huge explosion. At that moment the doors in our house were blown out … even though we were some distance from the blast,” said one elderly man, his head wrapped in a bandage.
No one claimed responsibility for the detonations, which followed a series of suicide attacks that have struck Damascus and Syria’s second city Aleppo over the past three months.
The explosions came two days after the first anniversary of the uprising, in which more than 8,000 people have been killed and about 230,000 forced to flee their homes, according to United Nations figures.
They also coincided with a joint mission by the Syrian government, the United Nations and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation that was due to start assessing humanitarian needs in towns across Syria which have suffered from months of unrest.
One source involved in the mission said team members were still gathering in Syria and it was not immediately clear if they would begin their work this weekend as previously planned.
DEATH AND TORTURE
Violence was reported elsewhere in Syria on Saturday.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of contacts within Syria, said the body of an old man was found on Saturday, a day after he was arrested during raids in the northern region Jabal al-Zawiyah.
It added that five people died in the eastern town of Raqqa, including three who were wounded a day earlier. One person was shot dead by security forces during the funeral of two people killed on Friday.