Suicide bombings kill at least 31 in Damascus on sixth anniversary of Syrian civil war

Second blast reported less than two hours after first bombing

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More than 30 people have been killed in suicide bombings in Damascus.

The first militant blew himself up inside the Palace of Justice court building, while the second detonated his vest in a restaurant in the Rawbeh district, state media reported. There were fears several victims had been killed.

The Syrian News Channel said the attacker was being chased by security agents when he detonated his vest, amid reports of two more on the loose as part of the attack on the Palace of Justice. 

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Security personnel stand near a damaged entrance after a suicide blast at the Palace of Justice in Damascus, 15 March (Reuters)

The terror attacks came on the sixth anniversary of the Syrian civil war, which has left an estimated 500,000 people dead and forced 7.6 million to flee their homes.

State news agency SANA cited the Damascus police as saying that there were 102 injured in the courthouse attack and 28 injured in the restaurant.

Syrian media reports said a suicide bomber detonated his vest on Wednesday afternoon inside the capital’s main judicial building. 

Damascus police chief Mohammad Kheir Ismail said the attacker struck as officers attempted to search him and prevent him from entering the building at 1.20pm local time (11.20am GMT).

He arrived at the entrance wearing a military uniform and carrying a shotgun and grenades, he told state television.

When police attempted to disarm him at a security checkpoint, Mr Ismail said the militant handed over the grenade and gun before hurling himself inside the building and detonated his explosives.

Syria's attorney general, Ahmad al-Sayed, said the explosion was timed during a crowded period of the day to kill the largest number of lawyers, judges and civilians, adding: “This is a dirty action as people who enter the palace are innocent.”

The Palace of Justice, which houses numerous courts, sits near the famous and crowded Hamidiyeh market in Damascus. 

It was latest in a spate of bombings and suicide attacks targeting government-controlled areas of Syria in recent weeks.

Twin attacks killed at least 40 Iraqis in Damascus on Saturday, with the bombings claimed by Tahrir al-Sham.

They targeted Shia Muslim pilgrims on their way to pray at a nearby shrine, with a propaganda statement hailing the death of "Iranian militias" supporting Bashar al-Assad.

The Islamist alliance is led by the group formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra, which has rebranded itself twice after claiming to have split from al-Qaeda last year.

Tahrir al-Sham as carried out several suicide bombings, as well as an assault on a military compound in Homs.

Isis has also launched terror attacks in government, rebel and Kurdish-controlled areas of Syria, as well as increasingly using car bombs to defend its shrinking territory. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Wednesday's bombing.

It came as the World Health Organisation warned that more than half of hospitals and public health centres in Syria had been forced to close or left partially functioning during the Syrian civil war.

Almost two-thirds of healthcare workers have fled, said emergencies programme head Peter Salama, adding that resources were “stretched to the limit” by bombardment, security threats and a lack of access to medicine and equipment. 

He called for “systematic and unhindered access” for life-saving materials like vaccines and medical supplies “on this sad anniversary of the start of war in Syria and before more lives are lost”.

Additional reporting by agencies

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