DAMASCUS -- A car bomb exploded near a Syrian government ministry on Friday, rocking the Mezze neighborhood of the capital and sending up a massive black column of smoke.
It was the second explosion reported in Damascus on Friday, following a bombing outside a mosque in the northern neighborhood of Rukneddine.
The Associated Press reported that Syrian state television and an official at the scene said that at least five policemen were killed in Rukneddine, a death toll that was also reported by Syrian dissident groups. State media released a photo of a security officer checking an orange car with a shattered windshield and bumpers blown off near the reported bombing site.
The Mezze explosion that struck later was believed to have targeted the Baath Party headquarters or the Justice Palace, according to initial reports. It did not appear to have caused any damage to the Information Ministry located across the street from the blast.
Firetrucks and dozens of security forces crowded the scene in Damascus, where a blackened car lay twisted on the Mezze highway. No casualties were immediately reported.
It was not clear who was responsible for the car bombing in Mezze. Opposition activists said they were stumped, with some blaming the Syrian government for the attack. No group tied to the rebel Free Syrian Army claimed responsibility.
Beyond the capital, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition network based in London, reported that at least 80 Syrians had been killed Friday across the country, the majority of them civilians killed by rockets and government bombardment on their towns.
It also reported that at least 19 members of the Syrian armed forces had been killed by explosives and clashes, including in Damascus, and that 16 rebel fighters and defected soldiers had also died.
-- Times staff
Photo: A Syrian security forces officer, left, checks a destroyed car Friday in the northern neighborhood of Rukneddine in Damascus. Credit: Associated Press / Syrian Arab News Agency