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SYRIA: Damascus explosion an accident, authorities say

December 3, 2009 |  6:38 am


Observers are puzzled by a mysterious explosion aboard a bus in Damascus.

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency is reporting that an explosion that killed three people including a bus driver and two mechanics occurred when the bus' tire burst, releasing a "strong wave of pressure."

Footage from the accident aired on television showed the bus engulfed in flames.

The agency quoted Interior Minister Said Sammour as saying the bus was empty at the time of the explosion, undergoing repairs,  and that there was no evidence of terrorism.

But the story took a few twists and turns through the day.

Early media reports said dozens of casualties had occurred in a bus explosion at a gas station near the Sayeda Zainab mosque, a popular Shiite Muslin pilgrimage site just south of Damascus that draws tens of thousands of Iranians.

Right after the blast, the Arab news channnel Al-Arabiya carried the headline, "Explosion targeted Iranian pilgrims." 

The Al-Jazeera network reported that "scores" of people had been injured. 

And Press TV, Iran's state-controlled English-language television channel, said on its website that Iranians had been killed in the blast, before taking  the story down. 

Last year, 17 people died as a bomb exploded on the road leading to the shrine. The bombing was blamed on Sunni militants.

Though Tehran and Damascus are allies, some of Syria's Sunni Islamic fundamentalists say Iranian Shiites are preaching on their turf.

Al-Jazeera points out that the explosion coincided with a meeting between Syrian President Bashar Assad and  Saeed Jalili, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council and the country's top nuclear negotiator.

-- Los Angeles Times

Photo: Workers clean the site near a damaged bus where three people were killed in Sayeda Zainab, an area that includes a holy shrine for Shiites in southern Damascus. Credit: Bassem Tellawi / Associated Press