BEIRUT (Reuters) - Four blasts ripped through a government-controlled district close to a military officers' club in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, killing at least 40 people and wounding more than 90 on Wednesday, opposition activists said.
The attacks within minutes of each other struck the main Saadallah al-Jabiri Square and a fifth bomb exploded a few hundred metres away, state television said, on the fringes of the Old City where rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have been fighting.
"Five minutes after the first explosion a second bomb exploded. A third exploded ten minutes after that," a state television reporter said. "There was a fourth car bomb which exploded before engineering units could defuse it."
The station also broadcast footage of three dead men disguised as soldiers in army fatigues who it said were shot by security forces before they could detonate explosive-packed belts they were wearing. One appeared to be holding a trigger device in his hand.
Rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad announced last week a new offensive in Aleppo, Syria's largest city and commercial hub of 2.5 million people, but neither side has appeared to make significant gains so far.
The explosions also came a week after rebels bombed military command buildings in the heart of Damascus and clashed with security forces for several hours.
That was the biggest attack in the capital since July 18 when a bomb killed several senior security officials including Assad's brother-in-law, the defence minister and a general.
Aleppo is now split in two with Assad's forces mainly in the west and rebels in the east. Several large protests in support of the president have been held in Saadallah al-Jabiri square.
Pro-Assad al-Ikhbariya TV showed footage of four dead men, including one dust-covered body being pulled from the rubble of a collapsed building and loaded onto the back of a pickup truck.
Many of the multi-storey buildings on the square had their facades ripped off and there was a deep crater in the road.
The British-based Observatory, which monitors the violence in Syria through a network of activists, said the explosions occurred next to an Officers Club. Footage showed sandbags near the bomb site.
Fighting only with light weaponry, rebels have resorted to bomb attacks in areas still controlled by Assad.
A pro-Assad Lebanese paper said on Tuesday that Assad was visiting Aleppo to take a first-hand look at the fighting and had ordered 30,000 more troops into the battle. It said Assad would remain in the city.
Opposition activists say 30,000 people have been killed in the 18-month-old anti-Assad uprising, which has grown into a full-scale civil war.
For much of the revolt, Assad has retained a grip on Aleppo with many rich merchants and minority groups there, fearful of instability, remaining neutral while protests spread.
Additional reporting by Dominic Evans and Laila Bassam in Beirut; editing by Samia Nakhoul