Several explosions ripped through Damascus on Thursday morning in what was one of the deadliest days in the Syrian capital since the uprising began nearly two years ago.
A huge blast in the al-Mazraa neighborhood was the work of a suicide car bomber, according to media reports. More than 50 people were killed and more than 200 injured, according to both the Syrian state media and opposition groups.
While the casualty figures could not be independently confirmed, many were reported to be civilians, including schoolchildren.
The explosion was close to both the ruling Ba'ath Party headquarters and the Russian Embassy, but the damage centered on a transportation hub, pedestrian walkway and several schools.
Photos and videos posted on YouTube and anti-government websites showed widespread devastation with heavily damaged buildings, burning cars and heavy black smoke rising above the city.
Severely burned bodies could be seen in and outside of the damaged vehicles.
Syrian State TV blamed "terrorists" for the blast. The Free Syrian Army, a leading opposition group battling President Bashar Assad's government, denied responsibility.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-government activist group, reported two additional car bombs outside government security centers in Barzeh, in northeast Damascus. One activist group said eight people were killed by one of the explosions.
And in northwest Damascus, near the military headquarters and the home of Rami Makhlouf, Pressident Assad's cousin and considered to be in his inner circle, an eyewitness told NPR missiles were heard overhead.
"I heard several missiles with the whistle tail and subsequent explosions, shortly followed by regime shelling. It's a familiar sound everyone [here] can identify," said the witness, who asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons.
"It was very scary," the witness added. "We went down to the basement. We all heard the whistle as if the missile was fired onto us."
Thursday was the third straight day — though by far the deadliest — that explosions have hit government-controlled parts of Damascus.
On Wednesday, a mortar attack near the city's soccer stadium killed one player, and the day before explosions near one of Assad's palaces caused damage, but no casualties.