Official state news media reported that six people were killed and 13 injured in the blast in the Sayyida Zeinab area, named after the mausoleum of the granddaughter of the Muslim prophet Muhammad.
The shrine, southeast of Damascus, is a focus of pilgrimages by Shiite Muslims from throughout the world.
Wednesday's attack was at least the second in the Sayyida Zeinab district, a working-class areas with a mixed population, including a concentration of Shiite Muslims, among them war refugees from neighboring Iraq. Some worry that the majestic shrine itself could eventually be targeted, just as mosques and shrines were bombed during the sectarian warfare in Iraq.
Human rights observers have voiced fears that Syria's 19-month old conflict is becoming more sectarian in nature. Rebels, mostly from the nation's Sunni Muslim majority, are trying to overthrow the government of President Bashar Assad, a member of the minority Alawite sect, a Shiite offshoot.
It was unclear whom Wednesday's bomb attack targeted. Media reports from Syria indicated that the bomb exploded near a vegetable market.
The official Syrian news service said the bomb was detonated in a garbage bag along a crowded street.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, as is often the case in Syria, where bombs have been detonating on public streets since December.
Despite tight security in the capital, the Damascus area has seen at least three bombings in the last 10 days, with almost two dozen people killed and scores wounded.
Recent attacks include a car bombing Monday in the Jaramana suburb, home to many Christians and Druse largely considered loyal to the government, and a blast on Sept. 21 in the Old City’s Bab Touma district, a historic Christian area.
An often-violated weekend cease-fire called for the Muslim Eid-al-Adha holiday ended on Monday, and violence has picked up throughout much of the country.
On Wednesday, opposition activists reported new government airstrikes on rebel strongholds east of the city, continuing a pattern of stepped-up aerial attacks. Rebel fighters generally lack antiaircraft weapons to counter jets and helicopters, though insurgents have reported shooting down some government aircraft.
With the weekend truce considered a failure, Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations/Arab League special envoy for Syria, was said to be formulating new proposals.
The veteran Algerian diplomat was in Beijing on Wednesday after an earlier visit to Moscow. China and Russia have used their positions on the U.N. Security Council to block international moves against Assad, with such efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis ending in an impasse. Brahimi is expected to present fresh ideas before the Security Council within weeks.
The Syrian conflict has so far left at least 20,000 people dead, according to independent estimates, though opposition activists have put the death toll at more than 30,000.
-- Patrick J. McDonnell
Photo: A Syrian Arab News Agency image shows a father standing next to his injured daughter as she receives treatment in a hospital following a bomb attack Wednesday in the Sayyida Zeinab district outside Damascus. Credit: SANA / EPA