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Car bomb kills 15 people, wounds 54 in Damascus

Burned cars littered the site of a car bomb explosion in Damascus Monday. Fifteen people were killed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

YOUSSEF BADAWI/EUROPEAN PRESS PHOTO AGENCY

Burned cars littered the site of a car bomb explosion in Damascus Monday. Fifteen people were killed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

DAMASCUS — An explosion from a car bomb tore through central Damascus on Monday, the government said, killing 15 people in a blast that rattled windows, spread chaos, and sent billows of dark smoke over an area that had been packed with people forming lines at banks, insurance companies, and cellphone outlets.

As ambulances pushed through the crowd, hundreds of people streamed away, and others called relatives to check whether they had been close to the explosion.

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State television, which also said 54 people were wounded, showed upturned cars blackened by the blast as smoke blotted out the sky in the vicinity of the explosion. Fire crews sprayed jets of water onto nearby high-rise buildings.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which demonstrated how the country’s two-year revolt has moved close to the heart of the city.

The bomb appeared to have exploded inside the gates of the Central Bank’s parking lot, destroying an outer structure and shattering windows of two large office buildings. Inside one of the buildings, people peered down from a glassless window at mangled, blackened cars, destroyed shops across the street, and swarming emergency workers.

“People were just sitting here working and doing their daily life, and suddenly this happened,’’ said a man whose curtain shop had its windows blown out.

A taxi driver said he had seen a minibus, similar to the kind usually used to transport employees, go through the checkpoint and into the parking lot where it exploded.

A mosque, a building housing primary and technical schools, and at least one apartment were across the street from where the bomb exploded. The building had gaping holes that framed the wreckage.

On the ground floor, a school office had curtains and glass splayed across desks, and a television was on, broadcasting footage of the smoke and chaos that could also be seen out the window. A picture of the Syrian president hung above the television.

One woman, a teacher named Hanaa who worked at the technical school, was crying as she picked her way through the rubble with wounded hands. Along with students, she had been inside the school when the bomb exploded, and a door frame fell on her.

“This is America, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, they are funding those people to do those explosions!’’ a man who was with her shouted at journalists.

In a separate development Monday, Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general, said all serious claims about any use of chemical weapons in Syria should be investigated, news reports said.

“The use of chemical weapons by any side, under any circumstances, would constitute an outrageous crime with dire consequences and constitute a crime against humanity,’’ Ban told delegates to a chemical weapons conference at The Hague.

The extent of any inquiry on chemical arms has been the subject of disagreement between Western countries supporting the rebels and Russia, President Bashar Assad’s main overseas backer. Ban said an advance team of inspectors was in Cyprus, Reuters reported, able to deploy within 24 hours if the Syrian authorities offered access.

Also Monday, Iraqi authorities forced an Iranian plane to land so it could be searched for weapons bound for Syrian regime fighters, but they found only humanitarian aid and medical supplies, officials said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group based in Britain, said Monday’s bombing in Damascus was caused by a booby-trapped car. SANA, the state news agency, also reported that a car bomb was to blame.

The bombing followed claims by authorities that they had cleared the eastern Ghouta area close to Damascus of rebels who are fighting to overthrow Assad.

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