A car bomb killed at least 35 people and wounded more than 200 in central Damascus on Thursday when it exploded on a busy highway close to ruling Baath Party offices and the Russian embassy, Syrian television said.
Syrian television broadcast footage of at bodies strewn along a main street and firefighters dousing the charred remains of dozens of burning vehicles. Black smoke billowed into the sky.
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It said casualties included children at a nearby school in the residential district of the capital. Debris was spread over a wide area.
Eyewitnesses reported seeing smoke billowing from nearly every part of the capital and said windows near the bombing site were shattered. According to them, the car exploded at a checkpoint located between the Russian Embassy and the Ba'ath Party's headquarters.
Smoke rises above Damascus
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group which monitors violence in the country, said a car bomb had detonated near a building of the ruling Baath Party. It said cars 300 meters away from the blast were badly damaged.
Wounded man evacuated from scene (Photo: AFP)
Activists reported at least two further blasts in the city after the Mazraa explosion, but there were no immediate details.
Arab media outlets reported of a series of explosions throughout Damascus. One of the explosions, in the Al-Qaboun neighborhood, hit the Syrian intelligence building. Casualties were reported.
Sky News Arabia reported that two mortars were fired towards the headquarters of the Syrian Army's general staff. No additional details were released.
Meanwhile, a communiquéי drafted for an opposition meeting said the opposition Syrian National Coalition is willing to negotiate a peace deal to end the country's civil war but President Assad cannot be a party to any settlement.
Smoke rising from blast (Photo:AFP)
The communiqué, seen by Reuters, omitted a direct demand for Assad's removal, in a softening of tone from past positions that insisted the president must go before there could be any talks.
The document, to be debated at a meeting of the opposition alliance's leadership starting in Cairo on Thursday, said Assad and his cohorts must be held accountable for bloodshed and that any peace deal must be under the auspices of the United States and Russia.
Car bomb suspected (Photo: AFP)
"Bashar Assad and the military and security apparatus commands are responsible for the decisions that have led the country to what it is now are outside the political process and are not part of any political solution in Syria," the document said.
"They have to be held accountable for the crimes they have committed."
The initiative comes from coalition president Moaz Alkhatib, a cleric from Damascus, who played a role in the peaceful protest movement against Assad at the beginning of the uprising almost two years ago.
Reuters, AP contibuted to the report