DAMASCUS, Syria -- Twin car bombs ripped through a Damascus suburb on Wednesday, killing at least 34 people and leaving dozens critically wounded, according to state media and hospital officials.
The state news agency, SANA, said two cars packed with explosives detonated early in the morning in the eastern Jaramana suburb, a district that is mostly loyal to President Bashar Assad. The area is populated mostly by Christians and Druse, a minority sect.
A series of blasts have struck regime targets in Damascus and elsewhere since last December, raising fears of a rising Islamic militant element among the forces seeking to topple Assad.
Wednesday’s car bombs went off in a parking lot located between two commercial buildings. They were detonated within five minutes of one another as groups of laborers and employees were arriving to work.
The blasts shattered windows in nearby buildings, littering the street with glass and debris. Human remains were scattered on the pavement, amid pools of blood.
There were conflicting reports about the death toll, however.
Two hospital officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media, said at least 30 bodies were brought to two nearby hospitals. Activists with the Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights say 29 people were killed. The activist group relies on reports from the ground.
The different tolls could not immediately be reconciled. Syria restricts independent media coverage.
The conflict in Syria started 20 months ago as an uprising against Assad, whose family has ruled the country for four decades. The conflict quickly morphed into a civil war, with rebels taking up arms to fight back against a bloody crackdown by the government. According to activists, some 40,000 people have been killed since March 2011.
Assad blames the revolt on a conspiracy to destroy Syria, saying the uprising is being driven by foreign “terrorists” — a term the authorities use for the rebels — and not Syrians seeking change.
Analysts say most of those fighting Assad’s regime are ordinary Syrians and soldiers who have defected, disenchanted with the authoritarian government. But increasingly, foreign fighters and those adhering to an extremist Islamist ideology are turning up on the front lines. The rebels try to play down the Islamists’ influence for fear of alienating Western support.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Wednesday’s bombings.
Rebels fighting to topple Assad are predominantly members of the Sunni Muslim majority. In their push to take Damascus, they have frequently targeted state institutions and troops around the country. They have also often hit districts around the capital with the country’s minority communities, perceived to be allied with Assad’s Alawite sect, an offshoot Shiite group that dominates the regime.
Downtown Damascus — the seat of Assad’s power — has seen scores of car bombs and mortar attacks, targeting state security institutions and troops, as well as areas with homes of wealthy Syrians, army officers, security officials and other members of the regime.