Suicide blasts in Syria kill at least 20 troops

BEIRUT Twin suicide bombings shook a southern Syrian city on Saturday, killing at least 20 regime troops, an activist group said.

The early morning blasts in Daraa targeted an encampment for government forces in the city, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists on the ground.

The explosions were followed by clashes between regime forces and rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad, said the Observatory. Its chief, Rami Abdul-Rahman, said at least 20 soldiers were killed in the blasts but the claim could not be independently verified.

The state-run news agency SANA said the explosions caused multiple casualties and heavy material damage, but did not provide further details.

The Daraa bombings come just a day after as many as 11,000 people were said to have fled Syria in a 24-hour span — the latest surge of refugees fleeing the civil war.

The flood of Syrians into neighboring Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon was "the highest that we have had in quite some time," said Panos Moumtzis, the U.N. refugee agency's regional coordinator for the region said Friday.

About 2,000 to 3,000 people are fleeing Syria daily, and the recent surge brings the number registered with the UNHCR to more than 408,000, said Moumtzis.

The largest flow into Turkey came from the fighting at Ras al-Ayn in the predominantly Kurdish oil-producing northeastern province of al-Hasaka, where rebels were fighting government forces.

Syrians cross the border into Turkey on November 9, 2012 near the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar. Some 11,000 Syrian refugees fled to Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon on November 9 amid escalating clashes between rebel forces and troops loyal to Syrian President Assad.
AFP/Getty Images

Daraa was the birthplace of the uprising against Assad, which erupted in March 2011. The conflict began largely with peaceful protests against Assad's rule but turned bloody after rebels took up arms in response to the regime's crackdown.

The crisis has since morphed into a vicious civil war and in recent months, rebels have driven regime forces out of much of a pocket of northwestern Syria and are battling troops in several key cities and towns. The fight has also taken on dangerous sectarian tones between a mainly Sunni opposition and a regime dominated by Assad's minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

"I heard two very loud explosions and a third smaller one followed by bursts of gunfire," said Mohammad Abu Houran, an activist in Daraa. He said the first two were likely car bombs and the third a mortar shell or rocket propelled grenade.

Abu Houran said black smoke could be seen over the high-security area, which was sealed off. Heavy shooting could be heard from the area for about 10 minutes after the explosions, he added.

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