BEIRUT (Reuters) - Two suicide bomb attacks killed at least 31 people and wounded dozens more in Damascus on Wednesday, state media reported, in the second such spate of bombings in the Syrian capital in five days.
The first suicide bomber targeted the Palace of Justice, the main courthouse in central Damascus near the Old City. Justice Minister Najem al-Ahmad told reporters the initial death toll was 31, mostly civilians.
The second suicide blast struck a popular restaurant in the al-Rabweh area of Damascus to the west of the first attack causing several casualties, state media reported.
State news agency SANA cited the Damascus police as saying that there were 102 injured in the courthouse attack and 28 injured in the restaurant.
Analysts who follow Syria have predicted that as jihadist rebels fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad suffer military reverses, they will increasingly turn to guerrilla attacks in territory controlled by the government.
As well as the Damascus bombings of recent days, which coincide with the sixth anniversary of the protests that sparked Syria’s civil war, attackers also twice struck the government-held city of Homs in the past few weeks.
On Saturday scores of people, most of them Iraqi Shi‘ite pilgrims, were killed in a double suicide attack in Damascus claimed by an alliance of jihadist groups known as Tahrir al-Sham.
Their military chief, the former al Qaeda leader in Syria, Abu Mohammad al Golani, had vowed more attacks after claiming multiple suicide attacks in the city of Homs last month.
The courthouse bomber set off his explosive device at 1:20 p.m. (1120 GMT) as the police tried to search him and stop him from entering the building, state television cited the Damascus police chief as saying.
Syrian state television broadcast footage from inside the courthouse showing blood splattered on a floor littered with papers, a shoe and broken tiles and stones. Images from a hospital showed a man in a suit on a stretcher with blood on his clothes.
The explosion hit the courthouse “at a time when the area is crowded” with lawyers, judges and civilians, harming a large number of people, Ahmed al-Sayyid, a senior state legal official told state-run al-Ikhbariya TV.
He later added that 45 people had been wounded. No further details were immediately available.
The government and its allies, Russia’s air force, Iran and Shi‘ite militias, have also maintained a fierce assault on some rebel-held areas including air strikes and artillery bombardments.
Assad and his allies describe all the rebels fighting against the government, which include jihadists as well as nationalist groups supported by the United States, Turkey and Gulf monarchies, as terrorists.
“The attack came as a retaliation against the latest victories of the Syrian army and the political victories in Geneva and Astana,” Ahmad said, referring to recent peace talks in Switzerland and Kazakhstan.
State media reported that the second bomber had entered the restaurant and detonated the device after having been chased by security forces.
“These are people who blow themselves up to kill others...,” Interior Minister Mohammad al Shaar told state media, adding that the security personnel were pursuing other suspects involved in the bombings.
In late February an attack in central Homs killed dozens of people with coordinated shootings and suicide bombs that targeted two security headquarters and led to the death of a senior official.
That attack was also claimed by Tahrir al-Sham, which includes the Fateh al-Sham group that was formerly known as the Nusra Front until it formally broke ties with al Qaeda last year.
Another suicide attack in Homs on Tuesday killed one person and injured two others, a witness told Reuters.
Reporting by Ellen Francis in Beirut and Kinda Makieh in Damascus; Writing by Tom Perry and Angus McDowall; Editing by Ken Ferris and Gareth Jones