DAMASCUS // A powerful bomb ripped through a bustling commercial district of Damascus yesterday, killing at least 14 people, shattering store fronts and bringing Syria's civil war to the heart of the capital for the second consecutive day.
A day earlier, the Syrian prime minister narrowly escaped an assassination attempt after a car bomb struck near his convoy, a few kilometres from the site of yesterday's blast. The bombings appear to be part of an accelerated campaign by opposition forces to hit President Bashar Al Assad's regime in the heavily defended capital.
In Washington, US president Barack Obama, who has said the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime would mark an unacceptable escalation of the country's civil war, said the United States must be more certain of all the facts before he decides on how the country will intervene in the conflict.
The White House said last week intelligence indicates the Syrian military has likely used a deadly nerve agent on at least two occasions in the civil war. Damascus denies the allegations, and says Syrian rebels are trying to frame it.
The bombing struck the Marjeh neighbourhood, a bustling commercial area near the Old City of Damascus, Syrian TV said. It described the explosion as a "terrorist bombing", using the term Assad's regime uses for opposition fighters.
The state news agency said 14 people were killed and 103 wounded in the attack.
In the northwestern province of Idlib, a government air raid near the Bab Al Hawa border crossing with Turkey killed one child and wounded several more people, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Thousands of Syrian refugees live in a makeshift camp known as the Bab AlHawa refugee camp near the border with Turkey.
As the regime has pushed back against opposition fighters, it has come under allegations of using chemical weapons on at least two occasions dating back to December.
Mr Obama, who has said that use of chemical weapons or the transfer of those stockpiles to terrorists would cross a "red line" and have "enormous consequences,, has sought to temper expectations of quick American action since the White House announced the intelligence assessment last week.
Speaking to reporters on yesterday, he reiterated that he needed more certainty before acting, but added that if it is determined that the Assad regime used chemical weapons "we would have to rethink the range of options that are available to us".
In Tehran, Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi said that use of chemical weapons in Syria would also be a "red line" for Iran, but suggested rebel forces should be investigated rather than the Islamic Republic's allies in Damascus.