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Car bomb in Damascus kills 53

BEIRUT -- A powerful car bomb ripped through central Damascus yesterday, killing dozens and dramatizing the wide gulf between the persistent violence on the ground and fledgling efforts to jump-start peace talks in the country's almost 2-year-old war.

Syrian state media said at least 53 people were killed and 235 injured in a devastating midmorning attack that left smoldering vehicles and charred and dismembered bodies scattered about on a usually bustling avenue in the heart of the capital. Most of the victims were pedestrians, motorists and schoolchildren.

The bombing on al-Thawra Street in the Mazraa district was among the most lethal attacks to date in a capital that has been mostly insulated from the violence raging elsewhere in the country. Last May, a pair of suicide car bombs outside a military intelligence complex in Damascus reportedly killed 55 and wounded more than 300.

The explosive Thursday was reportedly detonated at a checkpoint, one of many in the heavily militarized capital. Dozens of vehicles were set ablaze or battered in the blast, which was heard throughout the city of more than 2 million and sent a thick column of black smoke into the air.

The attack occurred near an office of the ruling Baath Party and not far from the Russian Embassy, which reported some damage but no injuries. It was not clear if either site was the target. -- Los Angeles Times

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