At least 40 people were killed and 90 wounded in a series of explosions in the center of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on Wednesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, citing medical sources.
State television said four blasts ripped through Aleppo’s main Saadallah al-Jabiri Square and a fifth struck a few hundred meters away, on the fringes of the Old City where rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have been fighting.
“The toll could rise because many people were badly injured,” a city official was quoted by AFP as saying, shortly after the bombs exploded near a military officers’ club and a hotel.
Aleppo is now been split in two with forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad mainly in the west and rebel fighters in the east.
Fighting only with light weaponry, rebels have resorted to bomb attacks in areas still controlled by Assad. Several large protests in support of the president have been held in Saadallah al-Jabiri square.
Syria’s army rained shells on rebel bastions in and around Damascus Tuesday and sent extra troops to second city Aleppo, as a watchdog said the death toll from 18 months of violence now topped 31,000.
As many as 160 people have been killed by the Syrian forces across the country on Tuesday, Al Arabiya reported citing the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The fresh offensive came hours after U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon urged Damascus to show compassion to its people and the U.N.’s Syria envoy prepared to return to the region to try to revive mediation efforts.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem insisted Monday that a political solution was still possible if the West and Gulf states halted support for the rebels.
The Observatory reported bombardments of the rebel-held Harasta district and the city of Duma, northeast of Damascus as well as a string of other towns outside Damascus.
Activist network the Local Coordination Committees said more than 100 shells fell on Zabadani. Once a resort destination known for its mild weather and scenic views, it has been devastated by the civil war ravaging Syria.
The official daily al-Baath said Tuesday government forces had “destroyed many weapons caches and seized large quantities of ammunition and equipment… which indicates that the end of security operations throughout Damascus province is approaching.”
On July 18, rebels carried out a massive bombing on a complex in Damascus, killing four security chiefs, including Assad’s brother-in-law and the defense minister.
Regime forces have since pushed the rebels to the outskirts of the capital. But they have lost control of several border crossings and are battling to retake Syria’s second city of Aleppo, which has been the focal point of the conflict since mid-July.
Several districts of Aleppo were bombed on Tuesday, the Observatory said.
Pro-regime daily al-Watan said on Tuesday that extra troops were being sent to Aleppo.
“New reinforcements have arrived to support the army… and the armed men (rebels) are now fatigued and have begun to flee to their villages and towns in the province of Aleppo and elsewhere,” it said.
Fighting at the weekend rocked the city’s centuries-old UNESCO-listed souk and sparked a fire that damaged hundreds of shops.
Fighting also raged on Tuesday in the southern province of Deraa, the Observatory said.
And Turkish troops fired across the Syrian border, killing a member of a Kurdish militia and wounding two others in the first such fatal shooting at the Turkish frontier, the Observatory said.
At least, 31,022 people have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule erupted in March last year, it added.
UN chief Ban, speaking after a meeting with Syria’s Muallem at U.N. headquarters in New York, said it was time for Damascus to lower the scale of its offensive against the insurgency.
Muallem meanwhile told the U.N. General Assembly U.N. members should press for an end to the “arming, financing, harboring and training of terrorist groups,” he said.
But Arab and Western governments have in turn accused Damascus ally Iran of arming the regime.
The U.N. envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, is due back in the region this week to try to revive talks aimed at ending the bloodshed, officials said.
In Lebanon Hezbollah reported that one of its senior commanders had been buried after having been killed “while performing his jihadist duties.”
A Syrian rebel commander in the central province of Homs, who identified himself only as Abu Moayed, told AFP that “the commander and two of his escorts had been killed by a home-made landmine near Qusayr,” a rebel-held, besieged town in the province.
Damascus ally Hezbollah is one of Lebanon’s main political parties and the country’s most powerful military force.
The U.N. refugee agency said the number of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries has more than tripled since June to over 300,000, and by the end of the year that number is expected to more than double again.