BEIRUT — Suicide bombers killed dozens of people in the Syrian capital on Wednesday, the sixth anniversary of anti-government protests that devolved into one of the deadliest wars of the century.
Syrian state media said a first attacker detonated his explosives outside the largest courthouse in Damascus, known as the Justice Palace. Hours later, it reported that a second bomber had attacked a restaurant in the city’s Rabweh district, killing several people.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, put the death toll at 39, with more than 100 wounded.
Once the site of an Ottoman-era barracks, the Justice Palace is blocks from the labyrinthine Hamidiyeh Bazaar, where wildcat protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s rule began in 2011, before a fierce government crackdown turned the uprising into all-out war.
Although much of Damascus is now tightly secured, Wednesday’s bombings were the second assault to hit the capital in a week, heightening concerns among Syrian commanders that the armed anti-government rebellion — now all but crushed — could be turning to urban mass-casualty strikes.
On Saturday, scores of people, many thought to be Iraqi Shiite pilgrims, were killed in a double bombing claimed by an al-Qaeda-linked rebel alliance known as Tahrir al-Sham.
The group also claimed coordinated attacks on security headquarters in the western city of Homs last month, killing at least 42 people.
Syria’s war has divided and destroyed much of the country. Monitoring groups say almost a half-million people have been killed and more than 100,000 arrested or forcibly disappeared. The violence has also spurred one of the greatest refugee crises since World War II, with the resettlement of Syrians becoming a divisive political issue across the Middle East, Europe and the United States.
The World Health Organization said Wednesday that more than half of the country’s hospitals are closed or only partially functioning, and that nearly two-thirds of health-care workers have fled.
World powers are now focused on corralling the government and opposition into peace talks, laying out early stages of reconstruction plans that are dependent on a political settlement.
On Wednesday, Russia, Turkey and Iran announced a fresh round of talks between the warring parties in the Kazakh capital, Astana, on May 3 and 4.
In an interview with Reuters, the United Nations envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, urged the government and rebels to speed up those talks.
“There is no way that we should be accepting the fact that the sixth anniversary becomes the seventh,” he said.