Deadly bombing, mortars rock Damascus
By Rim Haddad, AFPDAMASCUS A--powerful car bomb exploded Thursday close to ruling party offices in Syria's capital, killing dozens of people and causing widespread destruction, before a nearby military headquarters came under mortar attack, a watchdog and media reported.
February 22, 2013, 12:25 am TWN
The bombing, which rocked the city center and sent thick smoke scudding across the skyline, came as the opposition was meeting in Cairo to discuss proposals to hold conditional talks with President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
State television said the blast, which left a large crater in a road, killed 35 people and wounded 237, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the initial toll at 42 dead, including nine troops, and dozens wounded.
Images of charred bodies lying next to mangled vehicles were broadcast by Al-Ekhbariya state television, which said children were among those wounded as the blast occurred near a school in the central Damascus district of Mazraa.
Ambulance sirens rang out, and machine-gun fire was also heard in the area, as firemen rushed to the scene to douse the flames.
A police official told AFP the car bomb exploded at the 16 November Square near the Al-Iman mosque, where the Baath party's head offices are located.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but the official SANA news agency blamed it on “terrorists” — the regime's term for rebels who have been fighting to oust Assad for nearly two years.
“It is terrorism ... Is that what you call Islam?” one of the wounded told Syrian television.
“Is that the freedom you want? Is that the (rebel) Free Syrian Army?” said another man, speaking at the site of the attack.
The car bombing was followed soon after by a mortar attack on a military headquarters, Al-Ekhbariya and the Observatory both reported, without giving information on casualties.
The Observatory — which relies on a network of activists, medics and lawyers on the ground for its information — also said two other car bombs exploded next to security posts in the north Damascus district of Barzeh.
The attacks added urgency to the Cairo meeting of the umbrella opposition National Coalition, where discussions according to a delegate were centered on an offer by the group's chief to hold direct talks with the regime.