DAMASCUS, Syria — A suicide car bombing in central Damascus killed at least 15 people and wounded 53 on Monday, Syrian state television reported, highlighting the degree to which Syria’s civil war has reached into the heart of the capital.
The bomb exploded outside Syria’s Central Bank and its tax commission, and not far from a secondary school. More than a dozen cars were set on fire. State television played mournful music as it showed video of bodies and body parts being lifted from the debris.
“Does this please God? Does this please anyone?” one man asked in a televised interview. “Look what they have done to the area! Look what they did to the street!”
Another cried, “Enough bloodshed!”
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, and the government blamed unspecified “terrorists,” its term for opposition fighters.
Damascus, one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world and a center of Middle Eastern culture for millenniums, has been rocked by violence in the last two months as the war between the opposition and the government has escalated. A costly stalemate has seen the government hammer rebel positions in outlying neighborhoods with artillery, mortar shells and airstrikes, and rebels have returned fire.
Strategic suburbs have been laid to waste. Since last summer, when the battles in Damascus’ suburbs intensified, rebel fighters have manufactured their own rockets and mortars to shell state security offices in the capital. At the end of last year, several neighborhoods in north and south Damascus fell to the opposition.
Since the start of 2013, residents of central Damascus, who previously felt immune to the war, began to worry about rocket and mortar strikes, whether from the rebels or the government. The opposition has warned people to steer clear of areas with security offices, which are clustered in the city center.
Military experts say the government is focusing on defending the capital as it cedes territory to rebels in northern and southern Syria. Rebels have insisted for months that the final battle for Damascus is looming, and a sense of dread pervades the capital.
A suicide bombing at a Damascus mosque last month killed about 50 people, including a Sunni Muslim preacher loyal to President Bashar Assad. A bombing in February near the main Baath Party headquarters killed 52 people.
In many cases, the government and opposition groups blame each other for the attacks.
After Monday’s bombing, TV showed people huddled on the street in shock. A man said repeatedly that his car was destroyed and another person comforted him.
“Don’t worry. Thank God you are OK. The car is meaningless,” the second man said.
Small pools of blood stained the ground. Merchants swept up glass in front of their shops.
One woman stood in the street and said: “May God break their hands. May God bring to them what they have brought upon us. May God curse them.”
Special correspondent Elass reported from Damascus and Times staff writer Parker from Beirut. Special correspondent Nabih Bulos contributed to this report.