Blast rocks Syrian state TV in heart of capital
A bomb blast rocked Syrian state television headquarters in the heart of Damascus wounding several people on Monday just two days after the army said it had seized the last rebel-held area of the capital.
In commercial capital Aleppo, the army bombarded a string of rebel neighbourhoods after government security officials said that troops had completed their build-up and that a 20,000-strong force was poised for a ground assault.
Information Minister Omran al-Zoabi said there were no deaths in the morning bombing of the state television buildings in the heavily protected Omayyad district of Damascus.
"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." The broadcaster said that the blast hit the third floor of its headquarters. It remained on the air despite the bombing.
Monday's was not the first attack on the pro-government media in Syria.
On June 27, gunmen armed with explosives attacked the offices outside Damascus of the Al-Ikhbariya satellite channel, killing three journalists and four security guards.
"The terrorist groups stormed the offices of Al-Ikhbariya, planted explosives in the studios and blew them up along with the equipment," Zoabi said after that attack.
On July 18, four top security officials -- including President Bashar al-Assad's brother-in-law -- were killed in a bombing that rocked the heart of the regime. The attack was claimed by the rebel Free Syrian Army.
A subsequent investigation found that a technician in the office of Hisham Ikhtiar, head of the National Security agency, had planted explosives in the room where the crisis cell meeting was held.
The latest blast comes just two days after the army said it had seized Tadamun, the last rebel-held district of Damascus, after heavy fighting, and authorities took journalists on an escorted tour.
"We have cleansed all the districts of Damascus, from Al-Midan to Mazzeh, from Al-Hajar Al-Aswad to Qadam... to Tadamun," an officer told reporters at the time.
In Aleppo on Monday, a rebel commander was killed in the Salaheddin district in the southwest, and troops shelled the Palace of Justice in the city centre, as well as the Marjeh and Shaar districts, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
In Bab al-Nayrab, troops shot dead a civilian who was helping wounded people, the Britain-based watchdog added.
A total of nine people were killed in Aleppo early on Monday, among them eight civilians, it added.
A senior security official said on Sunday that the army had completed its deployment of reinforcements to Aleppo, ready for a decisive showdown.
"The war is likely to be long, because there will have to be street battles in order to get rid of the terrorists," the source told AFP, declining to be named.
"All the reinforcements have arrived and they are surrounding the city," he said. "The army is ready to launch its offensive, but is awaiting orders." The official said at least 20,000 troops were on the ground. "The other side are also sending reinforcements," he added of the rebels, who claim to be in control of half of Aleppo, a city of 2.7 million people.
A senior government security figure warned at the weekend that "the battle for Aleppo has not yet begun, and what is happening now is just the appetiser... The main course will come later." Elsewhere in Syria, the Observatory reported another 19 deaths early Monday -- 13 civilians and six rebels.
On Sunday, 131 people were killed in violence nationwide -- 79 civilians, 42 regime troops and 10 rebels, according to the watchdog's figures.
It is impossible to independently verify death tolls out of Syria. The United Nations has stopped giving figures.
The fighting has displaced tens of thousands, including some 600 Palestinian families who arrived in Lebanon in the past three days, most escaping violence at the Yarmuk refugee camp in Damascus, a Palestinian official in Lebanon said.
Damascus ally Iran, meanwhile, strongly denied on Monday that 48 nationals taken hostage in Syria at the weekend are Revolutionary Guards, as claimed by their rebel captors.
"We strongly reject the claims of some media that the kidnapped pilgrims are members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards," the state broadcaster quoted Amir Abdollahian, a deputy foreign minister in charge of Arab affairs, as saying.
"All of them are pilgrims who wanted to go to religious sites." Syrian rebels on Sunday posted an online video of the hostages, and charged that they included members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards.
A man dressed in the uniform of Syria's rebel Free Syrian Army said in the video that the 48 "were on a reconnaissance mission in Damascus" when they were captured as they were travelling in a bus.
Tehran has appealed to Qatar and Turkey -- both countries with close ties to the Syrian opposition -- for help in securing the release of the hostages.