Bombing in heart of Syria’s capital kills 8
BEIRUT — A bomb exploded Wednesday in a busy square in central Damascus, killing eight people and wounding at least 50, Syria’s state-run media reported.
The attack occurred in Hijaz Square in front of the historic Hijaz railway station, a crowded area in the heart of the capital flanked by shops and a hotel.
Among the casualties, state media said, were workers carrying out maintenance in the now-inactive station, which has been converted to a museum and memorial for dozens of railroad workers killed in sabotage strikes on the national railway system. Rebel attacks have shut down Syria’s once-extensive train network.
The explosion happened just yards from a more than century-old German-made railway engine that is on permanent outdoor display, a monument to the glory days of the Hijaz railway, built in Ottoman times to facilitate the passage of pilgrims headed to Mecca.
State media showed images of bloodied survivors outside the station and others being treated at hospitals.
The government blamed the midday bombing on “terrorists,” the official term for armed rebels fighting to overthrow the government of President Bashar Assad.
Central Damascus is heavily guarded and relatively secure, with fighting largely limited to suburbs and nearby rural areas that are rebel strongholds.
However, car bombs and mortar rounds fired from rebel positions outside the city periodically hit Damascus. The government says the attacks are meant to sow fear and maximize casualties among civilians.
No one immediately took responsibility for Wednesday’s attack.
There were conflicting reports about whether the explosion in Hijaz Square was caused by a planted bomb or a mortar shell, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition monitoring group.
Also in the capital, the state media said mortar attacks Wednesday by the rebels struck an elementary school and a sports complex, injuring four first-graders and at least seven other people and causing damage.
Elsewhere in Syria, state media reported eight people were killed and 41 injured when a car bomb detonated near a traffic circle in the southern city of Sweida. The city, largely populated by members of Syria’s Druze minority, is under government control and has been largely free of violence. Syria’s Druze population, like other Syrian minorities, is generally viewed as supportive of Assad’s government and hostile to the rebels.
Opposition activists suggested the Sweida blast may have targeted a branch of air force intelligence.
The flurry of attacks comes a day after diplomats announced that long-delayed peace talks aimed at ending the Syrian conflict had been put off until at least December, the latest setback for the so-called Geneva II negotiations. Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations-Arab League special envoy for Syria, said he had hoped the talks would take place later this month.
Fierce disagreements about Assad’s future have been a stumbling block to convening peace talks, originally announced in May by U.S. and Russian diplomats. Many opposition representatives insist they will boycott any talks unless Assad’s departure is guaranteed. Assad has said he has no intention of being forced from office and may contemplate running for president again in elections scheduled for next year.
Special correspondent Nabih Bulos in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.
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