A huge car bomb has exploded near ruling party offices in Damascus, killing nearly 60 people and causing widespread destruction in the Syrian capital's deadliest attack since the civil war erupted.
The bombing, blamed on "terrorists" by both the regime and its opponents, rocked the city centre on Thursday and sent thick smoke scudding across the skyline, shortly before a mortar attack on a nearby military headquarters.
Car bomb kills more than 50 in Damascus
RAW VISION: a car bomb explodes near the ruling Baath Party offices and the Russian Embassy,.killing at least 53 people in Damascus,
The attacks came as the opposition umbrella group, the National Coalition, met in Cairo to discuss proposals to hold conditional talks with President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Images of charred bodies lying next to mangled vehicles were aired on state television, which said children were among the wounded in the blast near a school in the central district of Mazraa.
The attack was "carried out by armed terrorist groups linked to al-Qaeda that receive financial and logistic help from abroad", the foreign ministry said, using government terminology for rebels.
Police said the bomb exploded at 16 November Square near the Baath party's head offices, and Russian news agencies reported the windows of Moscow's embassy were blown out, although no staff were hurt.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the blast killed at least 59 people, including 15 soldiers, and wounded more than 200. That would make it the deadliest such attack in Damascus since bombers first it about a year ago.
On May 10, 2012, 55 were killed in twin suicide bombings in the capital.
State media said the bombing killed 53 people and wounded dozens.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
"It is terrorism... Is that what you call Islam?" one of the wounded told Syrian television.
"Is that the freedom you want? Is that the (rebel) Free Syrian Army?" asked another.
The opposition also denounced the bombers as "terrorists".
"Any acts targeting civilians with murder or human rights violations are criminal acts that must be condemned, regardless of the perpetrator or the justification," the National Coalition said on Facebook.