A bomb has targeted the Syrian state television and radio headquarters in Damascus, injuring several people, the country’s information minister has said.
Omran al-Zoabi said that the bomb on the third floor of the building caused severe damage, but only led to “minor injuries” to several people. No deaths were reported in the blast, and state television put the number of wounded at three.
“It is clear that the blast was caused by an explosive device,” Zoabi said. “Several of our colleagues were injured, but there were no serious injuries, and no dead.”
“We know who is behind this cowardly, desperate and deplorable act,” he added, pointing the figure at an armed rebel opposition movement that has purportedly carried out similar attacks in the capital in the past.
“Nothing will stop the voice of Syria,” Zoabi asserted.
The television building lies in the Omayyad district of Damascus, a highly guarded area surrounded by multiple security barriers.
Al-Ikhbariya, a pro-government private Syrian television station, broadcast images of the damage at the state TV building. The footage showed destroyed walls, overturned desks, blown-out cabinet doors, broken glass and dangling electricity cables. A few TV workers were shown tending to a wounded colleague.
Violence in the capital has continued, with fighters who are part of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad saying they are focusing on launching quick “hit-and-run” attacks against government targets, rather than taking control of districts.
The attack in Damascus came as Syrian government forces said they are ready to mount a “decisive battle” for the country’s commercial capital Aleppo, even as rebels say they have made gains in the city’s ancient centre under intense bombardment and strafing from warplanes.
The twin fronts reflect the rising stakes for both sides in an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s government that has so far claimed more than 18,000 lives, according to rights groups.
On Saturday, a brigade of the Free Syrian Army, the main armed opposition group, released an online video showing 48 kidnapped Iranians pilgrims who they claimed were members of that country’s elite Revolutionary Guard.
The video warned that all Iranians in Syria would be “captured or killed” because of Tehran’s strong backing for Assad.
Iran said those captured when their bus was commandeered on Saturday were pilgrims visiting an important Shia shrine on the outskirts of Damascus.
The pro-government al-Watan newspaper, meanwhile, has said the Syrian army is bracing itself for a “decisive battle” in Aleppo, the country’s largest city.
No possible timetable was given, but activists in the city have for more than a week been saying that the government is gearing up for an all-out offensive on the northern commercial centre.
Late on Sunday, rebels clashed with the army in the city’s southeastern Nayrab district, a fighter who called himself Abu Jumaa said. The army responded by shelling eastern districts.
There were also clashes reported near the southern ring road.
Government forces pounded rebel-held areas on Sunday to keep the armed opposition from expanding their hold on the city’s centre, whose loss would be a deep symbolic blow to the government
Mohammad Saeed, an anti-government activist, said that warplanes had joined in the attack by strafing rebel positions.
“Fighter jets to us are now as common as birds in the sky,” Saeed said.
Saeed and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based human rights group, reported heavy shelling and clashes, mainly in districts flanking Aleppo’s historic centre: Salahedin in the southwest and al-Sukkari and Hananou in the northeast.
Syria’s official SANA news agency described the Aleppo rebels as “Gulf and Turkish militias” – more evidence of the deep regional fissures between Assad and allies such as Iran on one side, and nations that back the rebels on the other.
Once a busy shopping and restaurant district where residents would spend evenings with their families, the Salaheddin district is now white with dust, broken concrete and rubble.
Tank shell holes gape wide on the top of buildings near the frontline, and homes of families and couples have been turned into look-outs and sniper locations for rebel fighters.
The government also claims that it has regained full control over Damascus, after driving rebels out of central districts, including near Abbassiyyin Square, on Sunday.
Khaled al-Shami, an anti-government activist in Damascus, dismissed as “nonsense” the official reports that rebels were pushed from the capital.
He said rebels are increasingly using a tactic of quick-hit attacks to frustrate security forces and keep the capital unstable.
“The Free Syrian Army does not seek to hold territory in Damascus but rather stage hit-and-run attacks that drain the regime. The rebels are present and strong there,” he said.