25 dead in Damascus bomb blast
A bomb has exploded at a busy Damascus intersection, killing 25 people and wounding dozens more.
It was the second major attack in the Syrian capital in as many weeks, said officials who vowed to respond to further security threats with an "iron fist".
The government blamed "terrorists," saying a suicide bomber had blown himself up in the crowded Midan district. But the country's opposition demanded an independent investigation, accusing forces loyal to the Syrian regime of being behind the bombing to tarnish a 10-month-old uprising against President Bashar Assad.
"Is there anything worse than these crimes?" said Majida Jomaa, a 30-year-old housewife who ran to the streets after hearing the explosion around 11am. "Is this freedom?"
It was impossible to determine the exact target of the blast, but a police bus was riddled with shrapnel and blood was splattered on its seats, according to Syrian TV video and a government official. Blood also stained the street, which was littered with shattered glass.
The bomber "detonated himself with the aim of killing the largest number of people," Interior Minister Mohammed Shaar told reporters. State media said most of the dead were civilians but security forces were also among them.
Midan is one of several Damascus neighbourhoods that have seen frequent anti-Assad protests on Fridays since the uprising began in March, inspired by the revolutions around the Arab world.
The violence marks a dramatic escalation of bloodshed in Syria as Arab League observers tour the country to investigate Assad's bloody crackdown on dissent. The monitoring mission will issue its first findings on Sunday at a meeting in Cairo.
Syria's state media, Sana, put the initial death toll at 25 and more than 60 wounded. The death toll included 10 confirmed dead and the remains of an estimated 15 others whose bodies had yet to be identified.
The blast came exactly two weeks after twin bombings targeting intelligence agencies in Damascus killed 44 people. The regime blamed terrorists for those explosions as well.