Blast in Syrian capital kills at least 13



Amman: A taxi rigged with explosives blew up outside a police station in the Syrian capital on Sunday, killing at least 13 people even as the UN envoy to the nation's crisis was visiting Damascus to push his call for a cease-fire in talks with President Bashar Assad.

The SANA state news agency said 29 people were also wounded in the blast in the Bab Touma neighbourhood, a popular shopping district largely inhabited by Syria's Christian minority.

Once largely immune to the violence that has swept over Syria since the anti-Assad revolt began in March 2011, Damascus has become a frequent target of bombings in recent months. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for today's blast, but Islamist groups fighting alongside the rebels have sometimes claimed responsibility for bomb attacks against security targets in the capital.

Two officials speaking from the scene said the taxi blew up 50 meters from Bab Touma's main police station. He insisted on anonymity because he was not allowed to brief the media.

An Associated Press reporter at the scene said blood stained the street and sidewalks, shards of glass littered the pavement from shop windows blown out by the blast and the charred hulks of at least four cars littered the street.

Vegetable vendor Mohammad Hanbali, 27, said several people wounded in the blast were lying on the street.

"It's a cowardly act, carried out by terrorists," said Hanbali, who was hit by a piece of shrapnel in the left leg.

SANA put the death toll at 13, while the anti-regime Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 10 people were killed in the blast.

In another part of capital, UN and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met with Assad as part of his push for a cease-fire between rebels and government forces for the four-day Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which begins October 26.

Brahimi told reporters following a closed-door meeting that he met earlier with Syrian opposition groups inside and outside the country to discuss his truce plan. He said he received "promises" but not a "commitment" from them to honour the cease-fire.

He noted that he "found an overwhelming response" from Assad's opponents to his cease-fire plan and that "all of them have said that it's a good idea which they support."

He declined to reveal Assad's response to his plan, viewed as a preliminary step toward a larger deal.

But SANA said Assad assured Brahimi that he supported his effort, but did not say whether he committed to a truce. "The president said he is open to any sincere effort to find a political solution to the crisis on the basis of respecting the Syrian sovereignty and rejecting foreign interference," SANA said.

PTI