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A general view of the destruction after an explosion in central Damascus on Feb. 21, 2013, in this handout photograph released by Syria’s national news agency SANA. A car bomb killed 53 people and wounded 200 in central Damascus on Thursday when it blew up on a busy highway close to ruling Baath Party offices and the Russian Embassy, Syrian television said. (SANA/REUTERS)
A general view of the destruction after an explosion in central Damascus on Feb. 21, 2013, in this handout photograph released by Syria’s national news agency SANA. A car bomb killed 53 people and wounded 200 in central Damascus on Thursday when it blew up on a busy highway close to ruling Baath Party offices and the Russian Embassy, Syrian television said. (SANA/REUTERS)

STEPHEN STARR

Damascus blasts show us Assad barely controls his own capital Add to ...

For the third day in succession, the Syrian capital of Damascus has been the target of a violent attack. The mid-morning blast that killed at least 31 people struck close to a highway in a residential area of the city centre, dispelling any lingering notions the Syrian regime can enforce security in the country’s seat of power. Damascus remains the number one goal for rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s government and though they have found it hard to penetrate the capital, other events this week show they are closing in.

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As is regularly the case with car bomb explosions in Syria, the target of Thursday’s blast is unknown, though the Russian embassy and a large Baath government complex are both located close by. It’s also possible that a government checkpoint or even civilians at the busy intersection were the target today. On Wednesday, mortars landed on a stadium further south in Damascus, killing one soccer player and injuring several others. The target in that incident may have been a Baath government building also located close by. On Tuesday, shells fired at a presidential palace in the west of the capital caused slight structural damage.

SANA, the state news agency, referred to the blast as a “terrorist bombing” – nothing new there – and said it also caused damage to a hospital and school in the area. Mini-buses parked at a nearby bus station were also destroyed. Footage broadcast on state television showed residential buildings located close to the blast area. A SANA reporter said “authorities” also seized a car loaded with “cylinder-shaped bath water heaters filled with explosives in the site of the bombing.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring organ that opposes Mr. Assad’s rule, said the dead were mostly civilians.

Al-Thawra street is one of the capital’s busiest throughways, linking traffic north of Damascus to the city centre. Many commuters were likely on their way home ahead of the weekend holiday on Friday. Mezraa, the adjacent neighborhood, is a middle-class residential area home to a small Christian population. Christians and other religious minorities have largely sided with the regime in the 23-month-old conflict.

Both Damascus and Aleppo have experienced deadly car bomb blasts over the past 14 months, with government security buildings and civilian areas both targeted. In some cases, Jabhat al-Nusra, an Islamist group fighting the Assad regime and deemed a terror organization by the U.S. government, has claimed responsibility.

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