BEIRUT (AP) — Several bombs went off Tuesday inside a school in the Syrian capital that activists say was being used by regime forces as a security headquarters. Ambulances rushed to the area and an initial report on state media said seven people were wounded.
An amateur video posted online showed smoke billowing from several spots in an area near a major road. The narrator said: "A series of explosions shake the capital Damascus." The authenticity of the video could not be independently confirmed.
Over the past few months, rebels have increasingly targeted security sites and symbols of regime power in a bid to turn the tide in Syria's 18-month conflict, which activists say has left some 30,000 people dead. In July, a bombing in the heart of Damascus killed four senior security officials including the defense minister and President Bashar Assad's brother-in-law. Other large blasts have targeted the headquarters of security agencies in the capital, killing scores of people this year.
Abu Hisham al-Shami, an activist based in Damascus, told The Associated Press via Skype that the "Sons of Martyrs School" had recently been turned into a regime security center. He said government forces use the school as a base to fire mortars at rebellious neighborhoods.
State-run television quoted the director of the school, Mohammed Amin Othman, as saying that two bombs exploded inside the school, wounding seven people and causing minor damage. It said the bombs were planted by "terrorists," the term the government uses for rebels.
Othman said in a statement carried by the state-run SANA news agency that no students were at the school Tuesday. Although the school year started last week in Syria, Othman said the boarding school will open next week.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 20 people were wounded, some of them seriously, in several blasts at the school. It said most of the wounded were members of military.
A worker outside the school, who refused to be identified, said two diesel tankers exploded inside the school compound, wounding at least four people, one of them seriously. He added that the wounded were rushed to nearby hospitals.
He said a thick plume of smoke billowed over the area and fire reached the fifth story of the building. A nearby theater for the school's students was partially damaged and the blast caused its ceiling to collapse.
Also Tuesday, Syrian rebels released Lebanese citizen Awad Ibrahim, who was one of 11 Shiite Muslim pilgrims abducted in May shortly after entering Syria from Turkey on their way to Lebanon, the Lebanese state-run National News Agency reported.
Ibrahim, who crossed into Turkey Tuesday afternoon and expected to fly home later, is the second to be released and nine remain held in northern Syria.
His release came after two Turkish citizens and several Syrians were set free in Beirut after being abducted by Lebanese tribesmen to press for the release of Lebanese. Turkey hosts leading Syrian opposition figures and rebel commanders.
The Observatory and the Local Coordination Committees reported violence throughout the country including clashes between troops and rebels near the southern town of Quneitra on the edge of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Both groups said at least seven people were killed in the fighting.
Earlier in the day, the Israeli military said several mortars fired by Syrian government troops targeting rebels hit the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, but no one was hurt in the shelling.
The incident marks the second time Syrian mortars have landed on the border area since Syria's crisis erupted 18 months ago. In July, mortar shells fell about one kilometer (half a mile) from the Golan boundary.
The Israeli-annexed Golan Heights was captured from Syria in 1967.
In Jordan, dozens of Syrian refugees angry over harsh living conditions in their desert tent camp clashed with Jordanian police, hurling stones and smashing charity offices and a hospital, officials and refugees said Tuesday.
The rioting late Monday in the Zaatari camp was the worst violence since the facility opened in July near the Jordan-Syria border. About 26 policemen were injured by stones thrown by the refugees, a police official said.
A Syrian refugee in the camp, Abu Nawras, said police fired tear gas to disperse the protesters who were demanding improved conditions, better food and education for their children.
The camp, which hosts about 32,000 Syrians who fled the civil war at home, has seen smaller protests in the past weeks as refugees mostly complained about snakes and scorpions, and demanded their tents be replaced with trailers so they can better protect themselves from the scorching sun, cold nights and ubiquitous dust.
Hundreds of thousands have fled the chaos in Syria as the uprising against President Bashar Assad turned increasingly violent. Jordan alone has taken in some 200,000 Syrians — the largest number in the region — while Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq have taken in the rest.
Associated Press writers Jamal Halaby in Amman Jordan, and Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem contributed to this report.