Three car bombs tore Wednesday into the heart of Aleppo, killing 48 people and wounding 100, mostly soldiers, a watchdog said, as television showed scenes of devastation in Syria's commercial capital.
Two car bombs exploded in quick succession around Aleppo's Saadallah al-Jabiri Square near a military officers' club and a hotel. A third bomb went off soon afterwards at the nearby Bab Jnein district at an entrance to the Old City, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a military source said.
The Britain-based Observatory, citing medical sources, said at least 48 people died and almost 100 were injured. "Most of them were regime troops," it said.
A local official put the toll at "37 dead and dozens injured."
Near the officers' club, part of the facade of a hotel was destroyed by the force of the blasts, an AFP correspondent at the scene said, adding that a two-storey cafe collapsed completely.
"We heard two enormous explosions, as though the gates of hell were opening," Hassan, a 30-year-old man who works in a nearby hotel, told AFP.
"I saw thick smoke, and I helped a woman on the pavement whose arms and legs were completely dislocated," said Hassan, who gave only one name.
A shopowner whose store is located a block away from the officers' club said: "I pulled out from the rubble a child less than 10 years old who has lost a leg."
Official television channel Al-Ikhbariya showed people evacuating some of the victims.
Elsewhere, rebel fighters attacked a political intelligence branch in Aleppo as well as an old vegetable market where a large number of troops were posted, said the Observatory. Overnight, rebels also destroyed two tanks in the city.
Aleppo, with a population of 1.7 million people, has been one of the focal points of the conflict since mid-July, when the army promised the "mother of all battles" to clear the city of rebels.
Since Thursday, the fighting has become more intense, spilling at the weekend into the centuries-old UNESCO-listed souk in the heart of Aleppo and sparking a fire that damaged hundreds of shops.
"The rebels are now attacking regime troops in the heart of the city," Observatory director Abdel Rahman told AFP. "Before, the centre was spared from violence. Now, we can say that barring some districts, Aleppo is no longer a safe city."
Abdel Rahman added: "This is part of the decisive battle, and the regime can no longer claim to control the city."
Bombings have increasingly become part of the unrest ravaging Syria, which began in March last year as peaceful protests for reform but has since morphed into an armed insurgency, with more than 31,000 people killed, according to activists.
On July 18, rebels carried out a massive bombing on a complex in Damascus, killing four security chiefs, including President Bashar al-Assad's brother-in-law and the defence minister.
Regime forces have since pushed the rebels to a string of towns and neighbourhoods on the outskirts of the Damascus, but they have lost control of several border crossings and are still battling to retake Aleppo.