Two strong explosions ripped through the Syrian capital Thursday, killing more than 40 people and leaving scenes of carnage in the streets in an assault against a center of government power, officials said.
Syria's state-run TV said 170 people were wounded in what one official said may have been the most powerful of a series of blasts that have hit the capital this year.
The explosions, which ripped the facade off a military intelligence building, happened at about 7:50am when employees are usually arriving at work. The building is part of a broader military compound for a feared section of the intelligence services known as the Palestine Branch.
An Associated Press reporter at the scene said paramedics wearing rubber gloves were collecting human remains from the streets after the explosions. Heavily damaged cars and pickup trucks stood smoldering in the area. The outer wall of the headquarters collapsed and some walls crumbled, although the basic structure inside appeared intact.
The Syrian government blamed "terrorists" and said dozens were killed or wounded, most of them civilians.
Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, the Norwegian head of the UN observer team in the country, toured the site and said the Syrian people do not deserve this "terrible violence."
"It is not going to solve any problems," he said, when asked what his message was to those who are carrying out such attacks. "It is only going to create more suffering for women and children."
Central Damascus is tightly under the control of forces loyal to President Bashar Assad but has been struck by several bomb attacks, often targeting security installations or convoys. The latest major explosion in the capital occurred on April 27 when a suicide bomber detonated an explosives belt near members of the security forces, killing at least nine people and wounding 26.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi posted a message on his Facebook page urging people to go to hospitals to donate blood, saying that Thursday's blast "might be the strongest" of a wave of explosions that have hit Damascus since late December.
The explosions left two craters at the gate of the military compound, one of them 3 meters (10 feet) deep and 6 meters (20 feet) wide. Residents said the two explosions quickly followed each other: first a smaller blast, then a massive one.
"The house shook like it was an earthquake," said housewife Maha Hijazi, who appeared shaken as she stood outside her house across the street from the targeted compound.
Syria's conflict started in March 2011 with mass protests calling for political reform. The government swiftly cracked down, dispatching tanks, troops, snipers and pro-government thugs to quash dissent, and many members of the opposition took up arms to defend themselves and attack government troops. Many soldiers also switched sides.
There was no claim of responsibility for Thursday's blasts. But an al-Qaida-inspired group has claimed responsibility for several past explosions, raising fears that terrorist groups are entering the fray and exploiting the chaos.
The UN said weeks ago that more than 9,000 people had been killed. Hundreds more have died since.