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Deadly blasts target center of Damascus, Swaida.

Summary: Bombs targeting an air force intelligence office in the southern town of Swaida and the entrance of a landmark Ottoman railway building in Damascus killed at least 16 people Wednesday, activists reported.

BEIRUT: Bombs targeting an air force intelligence office in the southern town of Swaida and the entrance of a landmark Ottoman railway building in Damascus killed at least 16 people Wednesday, activists reported.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, but rebels tied to Al-Qaeda have previously claimed bombings of security institutions and have also targeted the center of the capital, trying to take the war to the heart of President Bashar Assad's power.

In Swaida, a suicide car bomber smashed into the entrance of the air force intelligence agency in the city, killing eight people, activists said. State media reported a blast but did not say it hit the security compound.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that a high-ranking officer was killed, and the other seven belonged to the security agency. However, at least one of the fatalities was a middle-aged female civilian, according to local activists.

Syria's air force intelligence is notorious for running detention centers where detainees are abused and sometimes tortured.

The blast was one of the rare incidents of violence in the province of Swaida, whose Druze majority have mostly stayed on the sidelines of the Syrian war. The province is home to thousands of refugees from other, non-Druze regions.

Activists in Swaida said that 35 people were wounded in the explosion.

In the capital, eight people died and at least 50 more were wounded in the blast at the country's railways authority, housed in a century-old structure that was once the main Damascus train station, state news agency SANA and activists reported.

The Observatory said that an IED (improvised explosive device) or mortar bomb might have been responsible for the explosion.

State TV broadcast images showing several wounded people walking away from the site of the blast, passing apartment buildings and shops with their windows blown out. Part of the railway building's wooden roof was shattered.

The Syrian railways authority is housed in a structure was built during the rule of Ottoman Sultan Abdel-Hamid II. It was part of the Hijaz train line that once stretched from the Ottoman Empire's capital of Istanbul to the city of Medina in what is now Saudi Arabia. It began running through Damascus in 1908. The Hijaz line was halted years after it was created.

But Syria's internal railway system -- partly built off the old Ottoman lines -- was only halted during the uprising after rebels attacked part of the railway lines.

In the province of Homs, rebels "seized a large amount of weapons" from the sprawling complex outside the town of Mahin, the group said.But a regime security official denied the report, saying: "The battle is continuing. The terrorists did not take any weapons, and there are many losses in their ranks."Some pro-opposition sources maintained that photographs of the captured weaponry being circulated on social media sites were in fact from past rebel assaults on weapons depots elsewhere.

The Observatory reported that more than 50 rebels and 20 regime loyalists were killed in fighting for the base Tuesday alone.

Farther north, government troops recaptured most of the village of Tal Aran, south of Aleppo, in another boost to their efforts to consolidate a supply route to Syria's main northern city after their capture of nearby Safira last week.

The Local Coordination Committees, a network of activists inside the country, reported at least 46 fatalities around the country.

The violence came one day after U.N.-Arab league envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said intensive talks on a mooted peace conference in Geneva had failed to produce a final date for the long-planned discussions.

Syria's opposition-in-exile, the National Coalition, urged Brahimi to remain neutral, after he cited opposition divisions over new delays to peace talks.

"The Syrian National Coalition confirms that the mission of the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy -- as understood by the Syrian people -- is to seek to achieve their legitimate aspirations and lift their suffering, or to remain neutral at the very least," the coalition said a statement.

The statement accused Brahimi of seeking to "blame" the opposition for his failure to convene the conference, urging him to "adhere to neutrality and not stray from what is acceptable in political discourse." Brahimi is scheduled to meet again with Russian and U.S. officials on Nov. 25.

Pressed to reveal the main stumbling blocks, Brahimi cited divisions within the Syrian opposition, saying he hoped they would "move toward the formation of a credible delegation" for peace talks.

"That will be a big step forward to make the conference possible," the Algerian veteran international mediator said.

The coalition is due to meet in Istanbul Saturday to discuss participation in any peace talks, but faces opposition from a key group which has threatened to quit the grouping if it takes part.

The opposition wants Assad's departure from power to be a condition of any peace talks, but the regime has said the president's role will not be on the table.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:7SYRI
Date:Nov 7, 2013
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