Middle East

Syria unrest: UN condemns Damascus 'suicide blasts'

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Media captionLyse Doucet at the scene: "The blasts took place in the early morning rush hour, when children were going to school"

The UN Security Council has condemned car bomb attacks that killed at least 55 people and wounded almost 400 in the Syrian capital, Damascus, on Thursday.

The council urged all sides to "immediately and comprehensively" implement the peace plan for Syria.

Syrian officials say "foreign-backed terrorists" carried out a twin suicide car-bomb attack in Damascus.

The bombs exploded near a military intelligence building during the morning rush hour.

The 15-member of the Security Council members "condemned in the strongest terms the terrorist attacks", a statement said.

The council also called on all sides to comply with the six-point peace plan of UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, "in particular to cease all armed violence."

Syria's ambassador to the UN accused Arab and other foreign powers of supplying and supporting armed groups. He urged the UN to take steps to stop such activity.

The Syrian government and rebel forces are supposed to observe a ceasefire monitored by a UN team.

However violence has continued unabated across the country.

Central Damascus is under the firm control of government forces, but the city has been hit by several bombings in recent months, often targeting security buildings or military convoys.

Thursday's attacks were the deadliest in the capital since the start of Syria's uprising 14 months ago.

Military intelligence

The interior ministry said the attackers used two cars "loaded with more than 1,000kg of explosives and driven by suicide bombers".

The explosions damaged the facade of a 10-storey military intelligence building involved in the crackdown on the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's rule.

It is part of a broader military compound of the Palestine Branch, one of the most feared among the more than 20 secret police organisations in the country, correspondents say.

The unit was originally set up in the 1950s to interrogate suspected Israeli spies. But it has evolved into the country's counter-terrorism unit, and is infamous for interrogations and torture, they say.

Large crowds gathered despite the security cordon, shouting slogans and chants in support of President Assad.

The Norwegian head of the UN observer mission in Syria, Maj Gen Robert Mood, visited the site. He said the Syrian people did not deserve this "terrible violence".

The US state department also condemned the attack, saying indiscriminate killing could not be justified. It called on the Syrian government to "fully and immediately implement the Annan plan".

The call was echoed by UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, who said the people of Syria were "suffering as a result of the repression and violence, which must come to an end".

Homs shelling

The opposition says the attacks were carried out by the government itself to discredit rebel forces.

Meanwhile, the Syrian army bombarded the city of Homs overnight.

Opposition activists described the bombardment as some of the heaviest shelling in Homs for weeks.

Eleven UN monitors are now stationed there to try to implement a ceasefire.

The observers are in the country as part of the joint UN-Arab League peace plan and began deploying last month.

There are now 105 monitors in the whole country , but their presence has had no effect in quelling the violence. A total of 300 are due to be sent in the coming weeks.

The UN says at least 9,000 people have died since pro-democracy protests began in March 2011.