15 killed in Damascus suicide blast
A suicide car bomber has struck in the financial heart of Syria's capital, killing at least 15 people, damaging the nearby central bank and incinerating cars and trees in the neighbourhood.
The attack was the latest in a recent series of bombings to hit Damascus in the civil war, slowly closing in on President Bashar Assad's base of power in the capital.
Rebel fighters have chipped away at the regime's hold in northern and eastern Syria, as well as making significant gains in the south, helped in part by an influx of foreign-funded weapons.
The blast was adjacent Sabaa Bahrat Square - near the state-run Syrian Investment Agency, the Syrian Central Bank and the Finance Ministry - and dealt a symbolic blow to the nation's ailing economy.
Firefighters struggled to extinguish flames that engulfed the two buildings as well as a row of cars near the roundabout. State media put the toll at 15 dead and 146 wounded.
Witnesses said the suicide attacker tried to ram the vehicle into the investment agency but was stopped by guards, forcing the bomber to detonate the explosives at the gate.
Visiting a mosque across the street that was damaged in the blast, prime minister Wael al-Halqi described the attack as "the work of cowards" and vowed the army would crush all armed groups fighting the government. Shattered glass and torn curtains littered the mosque's red carpet.
Some people wandering through the twisted metal, body parts and rubble on the street and directed their anger at countries supporting the rebellion. "I want to say to Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey that the Syrian people stand firm behind their leadership, and they are steadfast and will never kneel down, and we will emerge victorious," said engineer Saeed Halabi, 54, calling the attack a "terrorist and cowardly act".
The UN estimates that more than 70,000 people have been killed in the civil war. The Syrian regime denies there is a popular uprising and refers to the rebels as "terrorists" and "mercenaries," allegedly backed by foreign powers trying to destabilise the country.
The last large explosion in central Damascus took place March 21, when a suicide bomber at a mosque killed 42 people, including a top Sunni Muslim preacher who was an outspoken supporter of Mr Assad. A month earlier, a suicide car bombing near the ruling Baath Party headquarters - just blocks away from today's attack - killed 53, according to state media. Anti-regime activists put the death toll from that bombing at 61, which would make it the deadliest in the conflict. There was no claim of responsibility for any of those bombings.