Syria: Explosion hits Damascus, 10 killed

Associated Press

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — A powerful explosion hit Damascus on Sunday, killing 10 people on a day when the U.N. peace envoy was visiting the Syrian capital for talks with President Bashar Assad on the crisis.

An official speaking from the scene said an explosives-rigged taxi blew up 50 meters (yards) from the Bab Touma neighborhood's main police station.

He and another official said 17 had been wounded. Both insisted on anonymity because they are not allowed to make press statements.

Bab Touma, a popular attraction for shoppers, is inhabited mostly by members of Syria's Christian minority.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 10 had died and dozens were wounded, adding that it was not immediately clear if the victims and the wounded were civilians or policemen.

An Associated Press reporter at the scene said he saw blood stains in the street and on the pavements. He said glass windows of several shops in the area were shattered and at least four cars were completely burnt.

No other details were immediately available. Islamist militant groups fighting alongside the rebels have sometimes claimed responsibility for bomb attacks against security targets in the capital.

In another party of the city, Lakhdar Brahimi, who represents the U.N. and the Arab League, met with Assad as part of his push for a cease-fire between rebels and government forces during the four-day Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which begins Oct. 26.

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

"There is a promise to stop fighting," he said, referring to the opposition. 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.

"We are hopeful that the Eid in Syria will be calm if not happy," he said, adding that he will return to Syria after the holiday. "If we find that this calm is actually achieved during the Eid and continued, we will try to build on it," he added.

"The Syrian people expect more than a truce for a few days and it is their right, but all we can promise is that we will work hard to achieve their aspirations," he said.

Brahimi arrived in Damascus Friday after a tour of Middle East capitals to drum up support for the cease-fire. A range of countries including Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Germany have backed the idea.

Brahimi met Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem on Saturday. A Foreign Ministry statement released after the meeting did not mention the proposed truce, but said the two men discussed "objective and rational circumstances to stop the violence from any side in order to prepare for a comprehensive dialogue among the Syrians."

Syrian government forces and rebels have both agreed to and then promptly violated internationally brokered cease-fires in the past, and there is little indication that either is willing to stop fighting now.

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Associated Press writer Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, contributed to this report.

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