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Twin blasts rock Syria's army command headquarters in Damascus

State-run media and witnesses report that two explosions targeting the army headquarters in Damascus. Rebels and the army have differing reports on the number of people killed. 

By Samia NakhoulReuters, Oliver HolmesReuters / September 26, 2012

This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows smoke rising from Syria's army command headquarters in Damascus, Syria,Wednesday.

SANA/AP

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Beirut

A Syrian rebel bomb attack reduced the army headquarters in Damascus to a smouldering wreck on Wednesday as world leaders, unable to break the diplomatic deadlock in the conflict, met at the United Nations.

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The rebels said the assault on President Bashar al-Assad's power base in the center of the capital killed dozens of people.

The army said four guards were killed and 14 wounded in what it said were suicide attacks. No senior officers were hurt in the blasts, which shook the whole city just before the start of the working day, it said.

It was the biggest attack in Damascus since July 18 when a bombing killed several senior security officials, including Assad's brother-in-law, the defence minister and a general.

Since then Assad's forces have pushed back rebels to the outskirts of the capital but have lost control of several border crossings, struggled to win back the northern city of Aleppo and mounted air strikes to crush opposition in rebel territory.

State television showed CCTV footage of a white minibus pulling up by the side of the road and exploding in a ball of flames. It showed another blast 10 minutes later, apparently inside the complex.

The explosions struck as world leaders met at the United Nations, where deadlock over Syria has blocked a united global response to a conflict which activists say has killed 30,000 people, forced a quarter of a million refugees to flee the country and left 2.5 million people in need of help.

The uprising, which erupted in March last year as mainly peaceful protests for reform, has become an armed insurgency pitting mainly Sunni Muslim rebels against Assad, from the Alawite faith which is close to Shi'ite Islam.

Shi'ite Iran supports Assad while regional Sunni powers have backed the rebels.

One Sunni leader, the Emir of Qatar, told the United Nations that Arab countries should intervene "to stop the bloodshed", but few Arab states are likely to back his call.

In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin rebutted calls for an intervention. Any attempt to unilaterally use force or interfere with events in the Middle East would be counter-productive, he said.

The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the violence through a network of activists in the country, said 240 people were killed in Syria on Tuesday. Most were civilians but the death toll included 54 members of Assad's security forces.

Activists said security forces killed more than 40 people in a town outside Damascus on Thursday, calling it a massacre.

Video published by activists showed rows of bloodied corpses wrapped in blankets in the town of Dhiyabia. The victims appeared to be male, from 20-year-olds to elderly men.

The Syrian Observatory said it could confirm 40 dead.

"A massacre in the Dhiyabia area," says the voice of an activist in the video. "God damn you Bashar. The bodies are in the dozens. Look, Muslims, look what this dictator is doing."

Flames engulf military building

Internet footage of Wednesday's fire at the General Staff Command Building showed flames engulfing its upper floors.

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