Monday, November 20, 2017

Car bomb kills 13 in Syrian capital

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AMMAN, Jordan — A taxi packed with explosives blew up near a police station in the Syrian capital Sunday, killing 13 people as the U.N. envoy tasked with ending the country's civil war pushed his call for a cease-fire in talks with President Bashar Assad.

The blast also wounded 29 people in the popular shopping district of Bab Touma.

Two government officials speaking from the scene of the blast said the taxi exploded about 50 yards from the main police station in Bab Touma, a neighborhood in Damascus' Old City. They insisted on anonymity because they were not allowed to brief the media.

An Associated Press reporter at the site said blood stained the street and sidewalks, shards of glass littered the pavement from shattered shop windows, 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 when he rushed to help. "It's a cowardly act, carried out by terrorists," said Hanbali, who was hit by a piece of shrapnel in the left leg.

State news agency SANA put the death toll at 13, while the antiregime Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 10 people were killed.

Bab Touma is mainly inhabited by Syria's Christian minority.

Damascus has been a frequent target of bombings in recent months, although it was once largely immune to the violence spreading across the country since the anti-Assad revolt began in March 2011. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Sunday's blast.

In another part of the city, U.N. and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met with Assad to push for a cease-fire between rebels and government forces for the four-day Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which begins Friday.

Brahimi said 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 honor the cease-fire.

He declined to reveal Assad's response to his plan, viewed as a preliminary step toward a larger deal. SANA reported that Assad assured Brahimi he supported his effort, but it did not say whether he committed to a truce.

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