x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Powerful explosion rocks heart of Damascus

Syria crisis: At least 13 people killed and 70 wounded in blast in Marjeh, Syrian state TV reports, a day after the country's prime minister escaped an assassination attempt.

An image grab taken from the state-run Syrian TV shows Syrian police at the scene of a powerful explosion in Marjeh, central Damascus.
An image grab taken from the state-run Syrian TV shows Syrian police at the scene of a powerful explosion in Marjeh, central Damascus.

DAMASCUS // A powerful explosion rocked Damascus today, killing at least 13 and wounding dozens others, Syrian state TV reported, a day after the country's prime minister escaped an assassination attempt in the heart of the heavily protected capital.

The nature of the explosion was not immediately clear but rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Al Assad's regime have increasingly targeted Damascus, the seat of his power. The large bombing, the second in as many days in the capital, seems to be part of the wider violence wracking Syria as the nation's conflict enters its third year.

Damascus residents said they heard a powerful blast and saw thick, black smoke billowing from behind a group of buildings.

Syrian TV said the blast occurred in the central district of Marjeh, although the target was not immediately clear. The TV aired footage of fire engines at the scene in central Marjeh Square and firefighters trying to extinguish a blaze that engulfed several cars and a nearby building.

A man was seen lying on the ground in a pool of blood while another, apparently wounded man, was seen being carried by civilians into a bus.

Resident said they heard gunfire in the area of the attack immediately after the blast that went off around 11am (12pm UAE). They all spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals from authorities for speaking to reporters.

The explosion underlined the tenuous security in the Syrian capital, just a day after a remotely detonated improvised explosive devise struck prime minister Wael Al Halqi's convoy.

The premier escaped the assassination attempt in the capital's western neighbourhood of Mezzeh, and state TV said Al Haliqi was not hurt in the explosion.

But a government official said two people were killed and 11 wounded in the assassination attempt. The official spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to give statements to reporters.

The Observatory activist group said Monday's bomb blast killed at least five people, including two of Al Halqi's bodyguards and one of the drivers in his convoy.

The bombing laid bare the vulnerability of Mr Assad's regime and highlighted an accelerating campaign targeting government officials, from midlevel civil servants to the highest echelons of the Syrian regime.