DAMASCUS, Syria - A car bomb shook central Damascus on Thursday, exploding near the headquarters of the ruling Baath party and the Russian Embassy, witnesses and opposition activists said. TV footage of the scene showed at least four lifeless bodies.
Syrian state TV also reported the blast in the central Mazraa neighbourhood, calling it a "terrorist" attack on a heavily populated area. It did not say what caused the explosion but reported that there were casualties and that the wounded included four children.
The pro-regime TV station Al-Ikhbariya showed images of what appeared to be at least four bodies on the ground and cars on fire. The footage shows firefighters trying to douse cars on fire and lifeless bodies lying on the grass of a public garden.
Witnesses at the scene said a car had exploded at a security checkpoint between the Russian Embassy and the central headquarters of the ruling Baath party of President Bashar Assad.
Ambulances rushed to the scene of the blast, which also shattered windows and sent up a huge cloud of smoke visible throughout much of the city, eyewitnesses said.
"It was huge, everything in the shop turned upside down," one local resident said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution for speaking with foreign media.
Damascus has so far mostly avoided the large-scale violence that has destroyed other Syrian cities, though deadly car bombings have targeted government buildings in the capital.
The blast followed two mortar attacks in as many days on the capital. On Wednesday, two mortar shells exploded near a soccer stadium in Damascus, killing one player. The day before, two mortar shells went off near one of Assad's three palaces in the city, causing only material damage.
Not long after the first blast Thursday, a security official reported a second blast in the capital's northeastern Barzeh neighbourhood. He had no other information and spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said two car bombs had exploded near security centres in Barzeh. It gave no further details.
Syria's conflict began in March 2011 with political protests against the government and has since evolved into a civil war between Assad's regime and hundreds of rebel groups seeking to topple it. The United Nations says some 70,000 people have been killed in the conflict so far.