Syrians help an injured man after the bombing near the headquarters of Syria’s ruling party in Damascus on Thursday. (AFP)
Beirut, Feb. 21 (Reuters): A car bomb killed over 50 people and wounded more than 200 in central Damascus today when it exploded on a busy highway close to ruling Baath Party offices and the Russian embassy, Syrian television said.
TV footage showed at least four charred and bloodied bodies strewn across the street after the blast, which state media said was the result of a suicide bombing by “terrorists” battling President Bashar al-Assad.
Central Damascus has been relatively insulated from almost two years of unrest and civil war in which around 70,000 people have been killed across the country, but the bloodshed has shattered suburbs around the capital.
Rebels who control districts to the south and east of Damascus have attacked Assad’s power base for nearly a month and struck with devastating bombs over the last year.
The al Qaida-linked rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra, which claimed responsibility for several of those bombs, says it carried out 17 attacks around Damascus in the first half of February, including at least seven bombings.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll from today’s attack in the Mazraa district of Damascus at 31, mostly civilians. Other activists said 40 people had died, including children from a nearby school.
Opposition activists reported further explosions elsewhere in the city after the mid-morning explosion in Mazraa.
One resident in the heart of the capital heard three or four projectiles whistling through the sky, followed by explosions. At least one of them landed in a public garden in the Abu Rummaneh district, she said, but no one was hurt.
The Britain-based Observatory, which monitors violence via a network of sources inside Syria, said the Mazraa car bomb detonated at a checkpoint close to the Baath Party building, located about 200 metres from the Russian embassy.
Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency quoted a diplomat as saying the blast blew out windows at the embassy but no employees were wounded. “The building has really been damaged ... The windows are shattered,” the diplomat said.
The vehicle was carrying between 1 and 1.5 tonnes of explosives, Damascus governor Bishr Sabban told Reuters.
A correspondent for Syrian television said he saw seven body bags with corpses at the scene. He counted 17 burnt-out cars and another 40 that were destroyed.