BEIRUT -- Explosions went off at a Damascus school Tuesday morning, and opposition members said dozens of Syrian army officers and government militiamen were killed in a bomb attack on the facility used by government forces.
The Ahfad Al-Rasul brigade of the Free Syrian Army claimed responsibility for the attack at the Abnaa Al-Shuhada school. The school is next to the Palestine Branch military intelligence compound, and rebel groups say it has been used as a base of operations for military forces and pro-government militia for more than a year.
The attack specifically targeted a security meeting, which led to the high number of casualties, said Nabil Amir, a brigade spokesman.
The government played down the attack, and army Maj. Gen. Mohammad Amin Osman Mahmoud told the Syrian Arab News Agency that two explosive devices were detonated inside the school, injuring seven people and causing minor damage.
Residents in the area reported seeing smoke rising from the spot and fire trucks responding to the scene.
Amir claimed that Mahmoud was killed in the attack along with several other high-ranking army officers. He said more than 100 militiamen were also killed.
The bombing, which included nine explosive devices planted in the building and in fuel barrels underneath, was timed to coincide with a weekly political training meeting that is attended by officers and soldiers alike, said Amir, who added that he used to attend such meetings before he defected about two months ago.
Amir said the school was also the site of an artillery battery that has been used to shell the Hajar Al-Aswad district, which has been under heavy bombardment in recent weeks.
Amir said the attack was in retaliation for the continued killing of civilians across the country by President Bashar Assad's regime.
In May, the Palestine Branch was struck by twin explosions that left 55 people dead. No one has claimed responsibility for that attack, and the rebels and the regime have traded blame.
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-- Times staff