REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- An explosion rocked the Syrian capital Friday, killing at least 11 people and injuring dozens in an attack that left pools of blood, shattered glass and body parts in the streets, state media reported.
It was the second deadly bombing to strike Damascus in as many weeks. Government officials say such attacks prove that they are facing armed terrorists. Opposition supporters accuse the government itself of staging the attacks to divert attention from a violent crackdown against a nearly 10-month uprising against President Bashar Assad.
Interior Minister Mohammed Shaar blamed a suicide bomber for the blast, which he said killed at least 11 people at a busy intersection in the central Midan neighborhood. The official Syrian Arab News Agency said as many as 15 others may have died based on remains at the scene, and at least 63 were injured.
State television showed footage of a police bus with blood and shattered glass on the seats. Furious residents held up pieces of flesh to the camera.
“That’s the freedom they want? What type of freedom is this?” one man yelled.
Damascus has remained relatively sheltered from the unrest that has spread across the country. But the city has been on edge since a Dec. 23 attack, which authorities blamed on two suicide car bombers targeting security agencies in Damascus, reportedly killed 44 people and injured 166.
Midan is one of the few neighborhoods of Damascus that has seen regular anti-government protests.
Amjad, a local resident too afraid to have his full name published, said Friday's explosion took place near a police station where security forces and militiamen gather before deploying to break up weekly demonstrations that take place after Friday prayers.
He said he and a friend were headed to a nearby mosque when they heard the explosion and rushed to the scene.
“There were bodies in the area and blood everywhere,” he said. “It’s so hard.”
Amjad blamed the attack on the government, which he accused of trying to divert the attention of observers from the Arab League who are in the country to determine whether authorities are complying with regional demands to stop the bloodshed.
He noted that the Dec. 23 attack also took place on a Friday, which often sees the largest demonstrations and the highest death tolls.
Government officials have long blamed the violence on what they describe as armed terrorism gangs, which they charge are incited and supported from abroad.
What began as a mostly peaceful uprising against Assad has turned more violent in recent months, as a growing number of military defectors and other opposition supporters take up arms against the security forces.
Defectors fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army have claimed responsibility for deadly attacks against security installations and convoys. But a spokesman for the group denied any involvement in Friday’s explosion.
“We strongly condemn the attack,” said Maj. Maher Nuaimi, who was reached by telephone in Turkey. “It represents state terrorism from Bashar al-Assad and his gang.”
As many as 14 people were reported killed Friday by security force members, according to the Local Coordination Committees, a network of opposition activists who organize protests and document the violence.
Most foreign journalists are barred from reporting in Syria, making it virtually impossible to verify the claims of either side.
-- Alexandra Zavis and Rima Marrouch
Photo: Syrian investigators inspect damage at the scene of an explosion in the Midan neighborhood of Damascus on Friday that officials said killed at least 11 people. Credit: Muzaffar Salman / Associated Press