(MENAFN - Arab News) ALEPPO: Three car bombs tore yesterday into the heart of Aleppo, killing 48 people and wounding 100, mostly soldiers, a watchdog said, as television showed scenes of devastation in Syria's commercial capital.
Also yesterday, the army launched a major offensive against rebel bastions near the capital Damascus, shelling neighborhoods and making mass arrests, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and AFP journalists said.
Two car bombs exploded in quick succession around Aleppo's Saadallah Al-Jabiri Square near a military officers' club and a hotel. A third bomb went off soon afterwards at the nearby Bab Jnein district at an entrance to the Old City, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a military source said.
The Britain-based Observatory, citing medical sources, said at least 48 people died and almost 100 were injured. "Most of them were regime troops," it said.
A local official put the toll at "37 dead and dozens injured."
Near the officers' club, part of the facade of a hotel was destroyed by the force of the blasts, an AFP correspondent at the scene said, adding that a two-story cafe collapsed completely.
"We heard two enormous explosions, as though the gates of hell were opening," Hassan, a 30-year-old man who works in a nearby hotel, told AFP.
"I saw thick smoke, and I helped a woman on the pavement whose arms and legs were completely dislocated," said Hassan, who gave only one name.
A shopowner whose store is located a block away from the officers' club said: "I pulled out from the rubble a child less than 10 years old who has lost a leg."
Official television channel Al-Ikhbariya showed people evacuating some of the victims.
Elsewhere, rebel fighters attacked a political intelligence branch in Aleppo as well as an old vegetable market where a large number of troops were posted, said the Observatory. Overnight, rebels also destroyed two tanks in the city.
"The rebels are now attacking regime troops in the heart of the city," Observatory director Abdel Rahman told AFP. "Before, the center was spared from violence. Now, we can say that barring some districts, Aleppo is no longer a safe city."
Abdel Rahman added: "This is part of the decisive battle, and the regime can no longer claim to control the city."
The army yesterday turned its focus on Qudsaya, west of Damascus, and a neighboring locality, deploying troops heavily and making arrests, the Observatory said.
"The army is carrying out a major military operation on the outskirts of Qudsaya and Hameh, shelling the area," said Abdel Rahman.
The offensive comes after the official daily Al-Baath reported that the "end of security operations throughout Damascus province" was approaching.
Meanwhile, Britain will donate 1 million (1.25 million euros) to help 10,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey cope with the upcoming winter, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said yesterday.
"It's clear that the scale of the challenge is huge, however, with over 93,000 registered refugees in the camps along the Syrian-Turkish border and more crossing every day," said the British deputy prime minister, according to a statement from his office. "That's why we're announcing this additional funding for the Turkish Red Crescent, working alongside the Turkish government, the UN and the wider humanitarian community, to meet the critical needs of refugees this winter."
His remarks came during a meeting in Ankara with officials from the Turkish Red Crescent.
Britain's new funding will provide 10,000 Syrians who have fled ongoing fighting in their home country with essential supplies to cope with the freezing Turkish winter, said Clegg.
"This assistance will be used to ensure that Syrian citizens that are being housed in camps around the border have access to sufficient humanitarian supplies such as blankets and other equipment to help them cope with the winter," said Omer Tasli, general director for the Turkish Red Crescent.