Two explosions in eastern Damascus have left at least 34 dead, according to Syrian hospital officials.
The state-run SANA news agency said two cars packed with explosives detonated early on Wednesday morning in the capital’s eastern Jaramana district, populated mostly by the Christian and Druze minorities.
Among the dead were 10 unidentified bodies, according to SANA. Another 83 people were reported be injured.
Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin, reporting from Beirut, said: “When people gathered to try to rescue those injured in the first explosion, another big explosion took place.”
Local residents said the series of bomb attacks took place at 6:30am (04:30 GMT) in a location where forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, are stationed to defend the area against the armed opposition.
“Terrorists blew up two car bombs filled with a large amount of explosives in [Jaramana’s] main square… killing and wounding several residents, and damaging several residential buildings and shops,” state media reported.
There was a ball of fire at the end of a narrow lane, and the impact of the explosions brought walls down onto cars, crushing them and scattering debris over the ground. Pools of blood were seen in the middle of the street.
The opposition, however, said Wednesday’s attacks, the fourth time the area is targeted since August, could have been orchestrated by the regime to turn the minorities against opposition groups.
“The government has its own logic … [that] most of the rebels are Salafists”, who would be hostile to the Christian and Druze communities, said our correspondent.
The government, said Al Jazeera’s Amin, is “using everything at its disposal” to hold on to Damascus, which is considered to be a “last bastion” for Assad.
Hospital officials warned of an increasing death toll as many of the wounded are said to be in critical condition.
Russia’s foreign ministry released a statement following the blasts, saying Moscow condemned “in the strongest terms these new terrorist crimes, which nothing can justify”.
Elsewhere in the country, Syrian rebels captured a regime pilot after shooting down his fighter jet on Wednesday over Daret Ezza, in the northern province of Aleppo, witnesses said.
“Two pilots used parachutes to jump out of the plane after it was hit,” a witness told an AFP news agency reporter in Tourmanin, located one kilometre from Daret Ezza.
“One of them was taken prisoner,” the witness added.
The plane crashed in an olive grove on a hill some 15 kilometres away from the Turkish border, the reporter said.
It came a day after fighters said they downed an army helicopter for the first time with a newly acquired ground-to-air missile.
Army warplanes also carried out five raids in 15 minutes on Maaret al-Numan, an opposition-held town on the Damascus-Aleppo highway.
Fighter jets also bombarded the town of Daraya, southwest of Damascus, and the besieged, opposition-held neighbourhood of Khaldiyeh in the central city of Homs.