BEIRUT -- A blast ripped through central Damascus on Friday, killing at least nine people and injuring 20, including civilians and police, Syrian state television reported. It was the second blast to hit the Syrian capital on Friday, a day on which protesters take to the streets each week after noon prayers.
Syrian state television blamed the attack on “terrorists” -- the term frequently used by the Syrian government to describe the rebels -- and called it a “suicide terrorist explosion.”
Gruesome images of puddles of blood and body parts were aired on government-controlled television, which said the explosion took place following Friday prayers outside the Zein el Abidine mosque, near a school. The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency showed graphic photos of a severed hand and leg strewn at the bombing site.
A Damascus dissident rejected the state media's contention that the bombings were the work of anti-government forces, pointing out that the bombed area, Midan, is an opposition stronghold where protests against the government routinely break out. The mosque was also identified by a Damascus resident, reached by Skype, as a hub for protests.
Protests usually begin Fridays at the end of noon prayers as worshipers emerge from mosques and spill onto the streets. The explosion stopped people from leaving the mosques to stage their protests, the anti-government activist said.
"In Midan on Friday the security forces are stationed in every mosque and the eyes of the security are on the neighborhood," he said in a Skype interview. "So how does an explosion like this happen?”
A few hours earlier, another blast was reported in the industrial area of Damascus. It was not immediately clear if there were any casualties in that explosion.
The Friday bombings were the latest in a series of explosions that have rocked Syria since anti-government street demonstrations began more than a year ago. At least 26 people were killed in a January blast in Midan. Aleppo and Dara have also been hit with explosions in recent months.
-- Alexandra Sandels
Photo: Syrian investigators, right, gather next to a damaged police bus that was attacked by an explosion in the Midan neighborhood of Damascus on Friday. Credit: Bassem Tellawi / Associated Press