DAMASCUS, Syria – Two suicide bombers hit a central Damascus square during rush hour Tuesday, killing at least 14 people, activists and the Syrian state media reported. Activists said one of the explosions took place inside the police station there and that many among the dead were policemen.
The blasts were the first major attack in the Syrian capital since the regime recaptured the strategic town of Qusair, held by the rebels for over a year.
The regime is believed to be building on its victory there to clear rebels from areas they held in the center of Syria, a linchpin area linking Damascus with the regime strongholds on the Mediterranean coast. Backed by fighters from Lebanon's Shiite group Hezbollah, the regime took control of Qusair, near the Lebanon border, after a three-week offensive.
A security official quoted by state TV said two "terrorist" suicide bombers struck near a police station in the bustling Marjeh Square in the heart of the capital. He said 14 were killed and another 31 were wounded.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists on the ground in Syria, said 15 were killed in the explosions, one of which was caused by a man who blew himself up inside the police station in the square. The Observatory said the other explosion occurred outside the police station.
Suicide and car bombs have become common in Damascus. Some of the deadliest attacks targeting security installations have been claimed by the al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra — one of scores of rebel factions fighting the forces of President Bashar Assad.
The Syrian state-TV Ikhbariya showed footage from the explosion scene of broken shop facades, with blood splattered on the pavements and inside shops. Footage also showed mangled cars in the central square as ambulance workers were seen carrying the wounded on stretchers.
The regime triumph in Qusair has emboldened Assad. Syrian state-run media and the Hezbollah-owned Al-Manar TV have said the regime is preparing an offensive reportedly named Operation Northern Storm to recapture Aleppo. The regime was also believed to be advancing on rebel-held areas in the center of Homs.
The Britain-based Observatory reported clashes between rebels and regime forces in the rebel-held neighborhood of Dar-al-Sayah in Homs city, resulting in casualties among the opposition fighters. The group also reported fighting in Aleppo city early Tuesday, between rebels and regime fighters in what appeared to be an attempt to storm two neighborhoods held by the opposition.
Activists in Aleppo and Homs have claimed that regime forces' military operations in the two cities have been backed by fighters from Hezbollah.
The Observatory also said there were reports of fighting in the southern Daraa province around a village that has been contested between the two sides for the past few days.
The recent push by the forces of Assad has added a sense of urgency to calls for the international community to arm the rebels. U.S. officials said a meeting is planned Wednesday between President Barack Obama and his senior national security staff to weigh options for providing assistance to the rebel fighters.
Marjeh Square was scene to other attacks earlier this year. It houses the Syrian Interior Ministry, which was previously targeted.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
On Saturday, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden car in the central city of Homs, tearing through an area largely populated by the regime's Alawite sect and killing seven people.
Syria's conflict started with largely peaceful protests against Assad's regime in March 2011 but eventually turned into a civil war that has killed more than 80,000 people, according to the United Nations.