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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. 

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"The attack in Damascus once again proves that, with sufficient planning and co-ordination, the opposition appears to retain the ability to strike at the heart of regime," said David Hartwell, Middle East analyst at IHS Jane's.

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"This is despite the fact that the FSA has appeared in recent weeks to be under pressure as a result of the fighting in Aleppo and other parts of the country."

The main gate of the military complex was blackened from fire while windows of the building were blown out. Glass shards littered streets and a deep crater was gouged in the road.

Residents reported that gunfire rattled out around the district for at least two hours after the explosions.

"All our colleagues in the military leadership, the army staff command and the Defence Ministry are unhurt," Information Minister Omran Zoabi told Syrian Television.

"It's a terrorist act, close to an important site, that's true. But as usual they failed to achieve their goal," he said.

Activist Samir al-Shami said the main explosions were caused by a suicide car bomb and second car loaded with explosives on the perimeter of the complex.

"Then the fighters went inside and clashed with security inside, while some of the men started to torch the building," he said.

That tallied with accounts from residents who heard gunfire and smaller blasts after the first explosions.

"The explosions were very loud. They shook the whole city and the windows of our house were shuddering," one resident reached by telephone said.

A correspondent for Iran's English-language Press TV was shot dead by a rebel sniper and its Damascus bureau chief was wounded while they covered Wednesday's explosions, Press TV said.

Pro-Assad gunmen also killed at least 16 people in Damascus, the British-based Observatory said. It said three of those killed in the poor district of Barzeh, which is sympathetic to opposition fighters, were children and six were women.

No future

At the annual U.N. General Assembly in New York, French President Francois Hollande sought to shake up international inertia over the crisis by calling for U.N. protection of rebel-held areas.

"The Syrian regime ...has no future among us," Hollande said in a speech on Tuesday. "Without any delay, I call upon the United Nations to provide immediately to the Syrian people all the support it asks of us and to protect liberated zones."

Protection for "liberated" areas would require no-fly zones enforced by foreign aircraft, which could stop deadly air raids by Assad's forces on populated areas. But there is little chance of securing a Security Council mandate for such action given the opposition of veto-wielding members Russia and China.

The United States, European allies, Turkey and Gulf Arab states have sided with the Syrian opposition while Iran, Russia and China have backed Assad, whose family and minority Alawite sect have dominated Syria for 42 years.

Western powers have stopped short of supplying military aid to the rebels to an extent that could turn the tide of the conflict, in part out of fear of arming Islamist militants who have joined the anti-Assad revolt.

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