- Associated Press - Monday, April 30, 2012

BEIRUT — Two suicide bombers blew up cars rigged with explosives near a military compound and a hotel in northwestern Syria on Monday, killing at least nine people and wounding nearly 100, state media said.

The powerful blasts, which tore two craters into the ground and ripped the facade off a multistory building, marked the latest setback for troubled U.N. efforts to end Syria’s 13-month-old crisis.

An April 12 cease-fire agreement has helped reduce violence, but fighting persists and U.N. officials have singled out the Syrian regime as the main aggressor.

An advance team of 16 U.N. observers is on the ground to try to salvage the truce, which is part of a broader plan by special envoy Kofi Annan to launch talks between President Bashar Assad and his opponents.

Monday’s bombs went off in the city of Idlib, an opposition stronghold that government troops recaptured in a military offensive earlier this year.

The state-run news agency SANA said security forces and civilians were among those killed, while state TV said that many of the nearly 100 wounded were civilians.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist network, put the death toll at more than 20 people.

Syria’s pro-government al-Ekhbariya TV aired footage of the aftermath from the blasts, showing torn flesh, smashed cars, twisted debris and pavement stained with blood.

The force of the explosions shattered windows in the area and sent debris flying for hundreds of yards. Pro-government websites said five buildings were damaged.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks. State media blamed “armed terrorists,” a term it uses for rebels trying to topple the government. Activists claimed the regime was behind the bombings to discredit the opposition.

The bombers detonated their explosives near a military compound and near the city’s Carlton Hotel, SANA said.

A local activist, who only gave his first name, Ibrahim, for fear of repercussions, said the two sites are several hundred yards apart and that the explosions went off within five minutes of each other after daybreak Monday.

Two members of the U.N. observer team toured the site of the bombings, SANA said.

Monday’s bombings were the latest in a series of suicide bombings to hit Syria.

An al Qaeda-inspired Islamist group called the Al-Nusra Front to Protect the Levant claimed responsibility on Monday for a suicide bombing in downtown Damascus that killed at least 10 people on Friday.

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