BEIRUT: Two suicide bombers struck a police station in Damascus Monday, with at least 17 people reported dead, in the first such attack to hit the Syrian capital since July.
The interior minister said the blasts killed “a number of policemen and civilians” in the Midan neighborhood, but did not say how many.
At least 17 people were killed and 20 more injured when four armed men assaulted the station, pro-Damascus media reported.
Militants targeted the Midan police station and clashed with police officers there, Interior Minister Mohammad al-Shaar said on state television from the station.
One man blew himself up at the main entrance and another detonated his explosive device on the first floor, the minister said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Footage on state TV showed bodies in shrouds on the floor of the station and firefighters putting out flames.
The capital has enjoyed relative security as Syria’s six-year civil war has raged on nearby and across the country. But several such attacks have hit Damascus in recent years, including a car bomb that killed 20 people in July.
Daesh (ISIS) and the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham alliance – led by fighters formerly linked to Al-Qaeda – have each claimed separate suicide attacks that killed scores of people in Damascus in the past.
Monday’s attack came as a response to “the major victories that our armed forces are achieving on Syrian land,” Shaar said.
Syrian troops and allied forces have captured several suburbs of Damascus from rebel factions over the past year. The army and its allies are currently fighting insurgents in the Jobar and Ain Tarma districts on the capital’s eastern outskirts.
With the help of Russian jets and Iran-backed fighters, the government has pushed back rebels in western Syria, shoring up its rule over the main urban centers. In recent months, it has also marched eastwards against Daesh, where a U.S-backed Kurd and Arab alliance, the Syrian Democratic Forces, is separately leading an offensive against the militant group.
SDF fighters Monday combed through a central district of Raqqa that once housed key Daesh command centers, recovering communication equipment and weapons used by the militants.
The SDF have captured around 90 percent of Daesh’s one-time bastion Raqqa, including about half of the Al-Nahda neighborhood on the western edge of the city center.
After hard-fought battles against Daesh this week, SDF units were searching house-by-house for weapons or documents left behind by the militants. “This neighborhood was a strategic place for Daesh. Most of their bases were here, including command centers and ammunition depots,” said local SDF commander Gabar Derek.
Many of the buildings in the area are large stone complexes formerly used by Syria’s government, then taken up as bases by Daesh before the SDF moved in.
As Derek spoke, his fighters unloaded an armored vehicle full of dozens of walkie-talkies, military fatigues and boots, a gas mask, rocket-propelled grenades and even a serrated sword retrieved from the former Daesh command center.
“Walkie-talkies are important so we know what channels Daesh are using to communicate, how they’re moving, and what their plans are. We’re monitoring them,” Derek told AFP.
Recent sweeping operations had also uncovered stacks of Daesh administrative documents, hundreds of mobile phones, a weaponized drone, a tablet computer and even metal coins branded “the Islamic State.” Everything of potential intelligence value was sent up the chain of command to transfer to the appropriate units.
The SDF are working to tighten the noose on Daesh militants holed up in a part of central Raqqa that includes the national hospital and football stadium, where they are believed be holding civilians as human shields.
Meanwhile, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday that Syria’s war killed at least 3,000 people including 955 civilians in September, the deadliest month of the conflict this year.
The 955 civilians killed in September included 207 children, said the Britain-based Observatory.
“More than 70 percent of the civilians were killed in regime and Russian airstrikes, or in air raids of the international coalition” fighting Daesh, the Observatory’s head Rami Abdel-Rahman said.
The number of people killed in September was higher because of increased fighting and “intensified air raids of the international coalition and Russia against militant bastions in the north and east of Syria, but also due to increased Russian and regime strikes on rebel-held areas,” Abdel Rahman said.