Damascus car bomb kills at least 53

A massive car bomb exploded near Syria's ruling party headquarters in Damascus on Thursday, killing at least 53 people and scattering mangled bodies amid the smoldering wreckage.

Syrian state media put the toll at 53 with more than 200 wounded. However, anti-regime activists said 59 died, which would make this the deadliest attack in the capital since the Syrian uprising began nearly two years ago. In May, a double suicide bombing killed 55 people in Damascus.

Three straight days of mortar attacks on the centre of Damascus after recent rebel advances in the suburbs marked the most sustained rebel challenge in the heart of President Bashar Assad's seat of power.

Within hours of the car bombing, two other bombs went off elsewhere in the city and a mortar attack struck the army's central command. Thirteen people were killed by the other two bombs, activists said.

While no group has claimed responsibility, the attacks suggest that rebel fighters who have gotten bogged down in their attempts to storm the capital are resorting to guerrilla tactics to loosen Assad's grip on the capital.

The day's deadliest attack struck a main street on the edge of central Mazraa neighborhood, near the headquarters of Assad's ruling Baath party and the Russian Embassy, as well as a mosque, a hospital and a school.

TV footage of the blast site showed firemen dousing a flaming car with hoses and lifeless and dismembered bodies blown into the grass of a nearby park. State news service SANA published photos showing a large crater in the middle of a rubble-strewn street and charred cars with blackened bodies.

Witnesses at the scene said a car exploded at a security checkpoint between the Russian Embassy and the central headquarters of Assad's ruling party.

"It was huge. Everything in the shop turned upside down," a resident said. He said three of his employees were injured by flying glass that killed a young girl who was walking by when the blast hit.

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