A car bomb killed 53 people and wounded 200 in central Damascus on Thursday when it blew up on a busy highway close to ruling Baath Party offices and the Russian Embassy, Syrian television said.
TV footage showed charred and bloodied bodies strewn across the street after the blast, which state media said was the result of a suicide bombing by “terrorists” battling President Bashar al-Assad.
Central Damascus has been relatively insulated from almost two years of unrest and civil war in which around 70,000 people have been killed across the country, but the bloodshed has shattered suburbs around the capital.
Rebels who control districts to the south and east of Damascus have attacked Assad’s power base for nearly a month and struck with devastating bombs over the last year.
Two explosions tore through one of Syria’s biggest universities on the first day of student exams on Tuesday, killing at least 52 people and wounding dozens, a monitoring group said.
Bloodshed has disrupted civilian life across Syria since a violent government crackdown in early 2011 on peaceful demonstrations for democratic reform turned the unrest into an armed insurgency bent on overthrowing President Bashar al-Assad.
More than 50 countries asked the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday to refer the crisis to the International Criminal Court, which prosecutes people for genocide and war crimes. But Russia - Assad’s long-standing ally and arms supplier - blocked the initiative, calling it “ill-timed and counterproductive.
LIVE COVERAGE: Deadly bomb blast rocks Beirut, Lebanon
Photo: Firefighters try to extinguish a fire as a car burns at the scene of an explosion in Ashafriyeh, central Beirut, October 19, 2012. A huge car bomb exploded in a street in central Beirut during rush hour on Friday, killing at least eight people and wounding about 80, witnesses and officials said. [REUTERS/Hasan Shaaban]
One elegantly dressed man with a bloodied face was surrounded by bodyguards with their 9 mm pistols drawn and ready. He was stupefied. I began to photograph him only to find out later that he was a former interior minister under the previous government, and that he was the target of the blast.
Police arrived and made it difficult for me to photograph. I was only documenting one act of the terrorism that is plaguing the globe. I evaded them as I photographed, trying to photograph a body lying amidst the destroyed vehicles. The police closed off the street as the woman kneeling next to the man asked them for help. Ambulances began to arrive and take away the injured, with everything happening very fast.
I used in seconds almost everything I had learned in my years as photographer, and relived my experiences in the streets of Medellin covering the armed conflicts of the 1980’s and 90’s. Amidst the shock and daze, I pressed the shutter as the adrenaline flowed and kept me from breaking into tears.
My mobile phone rang, and my boss asked me, “Where are you?”
“I’m at the bomb site.”
PHOTOGRAPHER’S BLOG: Another Ground Zero
More than 20 bombs hit cities and towns across Iraq on Thursday, killing at least 36 and wounding almost 150, police and hospital sources said, raising fears of sectarian strife in a country whose authorities are keen to show they can now maintain security.
In Baghdad, three car bombs, two roadside bombs and one suicide car bomb hit mainly Shi’ite areas, killing 15 people and wounding 61, the sources said.
Two car bombs and three roadside bombs aimed at police and army patrols in the northern oil city of Kirkuk killed eight people and wounded 26, police and hospital sources said.
“I was trying to stop traffic to let a police patrol pass …A car bomb exploded, I fell on the ground and police took me to the hospital,” a policeman wounded in the face and chest told Reuters as doctors tended him. He declined to be named.
It was Iraq’s bloodiest day since Al Qaeda’s affiliate in the country, the Islamic State of Iraq group, killed at least 52 people with a series of 30 blasts on March 20.
READ MORE: At least 36 killed in wave of Iraq blasts
Russia’s members of Emergency Situation Ministry and Interior Ministry officers work at the site of a damaged nine-story building in Russia’s southern city of Astrakhan February 27, 2012.
The building collapsed after a household gas explosion and injuring 12 people, according to preliminary information released by local media. [REUTERS/Vitaly Loyanich]