Syria conflict: Deadly attack on Damascus court complex

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Image source, AFP
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Syria's attorney general said the Palace of Justice had been crowded

At least 31 people have been killed in a suicide bomb attack at the main court complex in the centre of the Syrian capital, Damascus, officials say.

The bomber blew himself up after police tried to stop him entering the Palace of Justice, near the Souk al-Hamidieyh.

Later, another suicide bomber attacked a restaurant in the western district of Rabweh, injuring more than 20 people.

The attacks come on the sixth anniversary of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

What began as anti-government protests quickly mushroomed into a brutal proxy war that has drawn in regional and world powers.

Activists say more than 320,000 people have been killed and 11 million displaced.

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Damascus police chief Mohammed Kheir Ismail told state TV that the Palace of Justice assailant was wearing a military uniform and carrying a shotgun and grenades when he arrived at the complex.

Police officers took away his weapons and tried to search the man, but he ran inside the building and detonated an explosive vest at about 13:20 (11:20 GMT).

Image source, AFP
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The area around the Palace of Justice was locked down after the bombing
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Officials said about 100 people were also wounded by the blast

Attorney General Ahmed al-Sayyid said the area had been "crowded" with lawyers, judges and civilians, adding: "This is a dirty action as people who enter the palace are innocent."

"We were terrified because the sound of the explosion was enormous," a lawyer who was inside the complex during the attack told AFP news agency.

"We took refuge in the library which is on a higher floor," the lawyer added, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It was a bloody scene."

Justice Minister Najem al-Ahmed was cited by Reuters news agency as saying the initial death toll was 31, mostly civilians, while a police source told AFP that 32 were killed and 100 wounded.

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State media said many women and children were injured by the blast in the restaurant in Rabweh
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The bomber was reportedly chased into the building by security agents

State media reported that the second suicide bomber had entered the restaurant in Rabweh, about 2km (1.2) miles from the Palace of Justice, and detonated an explosive vest after having been chased by security agents into the building.

The official Sana news agency cited police as saying that 28 people had been injured, most of them children and women, while AFP's police source said 25 were hurt.

No group has said yet that it carried out Wednesday's bombings, the latest in a series that have targeted government-controlled areas.

On Saturday, twin suicide bombings south of the Old City of Damascus killed at least 40 people, many of them Shia Muslim pilgrims from Iraq.

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Activists said 14 children were among those killed in a dawn air strike on rebel-held Idlib

The al-Qaeda-linked jihadist group, Tahrir al-Sham, said it was behind those blasts.

It also claimed an attack in the city of Homs on 25 February, in which suicide bombers stormed two security forces offices and killed as many as 74 people.

Also on Wednesday, a dawn air strike on the northern rebel-held city of Idlib killed at least 20 people, including 14 children, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The violence came during a new round of peace talks in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, which were boycotted by Syrian armed opposition groups because of what they said were repeated violations by the government of a three-month-old truce.

Meanwhile, a study by The Lancet medical journal and the American University of Beirut has concluded that Syria is the most dangerous place on earth for healthcare providers.

The "weaponisation of healthcare", it says, has translated into an estimated 814 health workers killed over the past six years, hundreds more incarcerated or tortured, and hundreds of health facilities deliberately and systematically attacked.

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