BEIRUT (AP) — Two large explosions shook Syria's southern city of Daraa on Saturday, causing multiple casualties and heavy material damage, the country's state-run news agency and activists said.
The SANA agency did not immediately give further information or say what the target of the explosions was, but the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists on the ground, said the blasts went off near a branch of the country's Military Intelligence in Daraa.
The Observatory said the explosions were followed by clashes between regime forces and rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad.
The southern city of Daraa was the birthplace of the Syrian uprising against Assad, which erupted in March 2011. The conflict began largely with peaceful protests against Assad's rule but turned bloody after rebels took up arms in response to the regime's crackdown.
The crisis has since morphed into a vicious civil war and in recent months, rebels have driven regime forces out of much of a pocket of northwestern Syria and are battling troops in several cities and towns, even as the fight takes on dangerous sectarian tones between a mainly Sunni opposition and a regime dominated by Assad's minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Explosions targeting state security institutions have become frequent in recent months, and military intelligence branches in Damascus and other cities have been hit. Most dramatically in July, rebels detonated explosives inside a high-level crisis meeting in Damascus, killing four top regime officials, including Assad's brother-in-law and the defense minister.
Activists say more than 36,000 people have died in Syria during the nearly 20-month-old conflict.
The explosions in Daraa come a day after as many as 11,000 people were said to have fled Syria over just 24 hours, to escape fierce fighting between rebels and government forces — the latest surge of refugees fleeing the civil war.
The flood of Syrians into neighboring Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon was "the highest that we have had in quite some time," said Panos Moumtzis, the U.N. refugee agency's regional coordinator for the region said Friday.
About 2,000 to 3,000 people are fleeing Syria daily, and the recent surge brings the number registered with the UNHCR to more than 408,000, he said.
The largest flow into Turkey came from the fighting at Ras al-Ayn in the predominantly Kurdish oil-producing northeastern province of al-Hasaka, where rebels were fighting government forces.