A suicide bomber has detonated a car packed with explosives in a busy residential and financial district of Damascus, killing at least 15 people.
The explosion came as UN chief Ban Ki-moon said inspectors were ready to deploy to Syria within 24 hours to investigate reports of chemical weapon attacks, but have not yet received permission from resident Bashar Assad's government.
The blast, described by state-run Syrian TV as a terrorist suicide bombing, was near Sabaa Bahrat Square, one of the capital's biggest roundabouts. The Syrian central bank, the Finance Ministry and state-run investment agency, a mosque and a school are located nearby.
It was the latest in a series of car bombs and suicide bombings to hit the Syrian capital in recent months. The two-year civil war, which has killed an estimated 70,000 people, has become increasingly chaotic as rebels press closer to Assad's seat of power in Damascus after seizing large areas in northern and eastern parts of the country.
Among the buildings damaged was the state-run Syrian Investment Agency. Witnesses said a suicide attacker tried to storm the building with his vehicle but was stopped by guards. He then detonated his explosives outside the building.
In the early days of the uprising, the Sabaa Bahrat Square was home to huge pro-regime demonstrations that took place with a giant poster of Assad hanging as a backdrop over the central bank building.
The last large explosion in central Damascus was on February 21, just a few blocks away when a suicide car bombing near the ruling Baath Party headquarters killed 53 people and wounded more than 200.
Last month, a suicide bomb ripped through a mosque in the heart of the capital, killing a top Sunni Muslim preacher and outspoken supporter of Assad and 41 others in one of the most stunning assassinations of the war.
Meanwhile a Syrian human rights group said nearly 9,000 Syrian government troops have been killed since the uprising started in March 2011. The Syria-based Violations Documentation Centre, which tracks the dead, wounded and missing, said 8,785 Syrian troops have died in the fighting. It said the rare report on the regime's death toll was compiled from government and opposition sources.