Car bomb in Damascus leaves at least 15 dead

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DAMASCUS, Syria -- A suicide car bombing in central Damascus killed at least 15 people and wounded 53 others Monday, Syrian state television reported, highlighting the degree to which Syria's civil war has reached into the heart of the capital.

The bomb exploded outside Syria's Central Bank and its tax commission, and not far from a secondary school. More than a dozen cars were set on fire. State television played mournful music as it broadcast video of the scene of the attack.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, and the government blamed unspecified "terrorists," its term for opposition fighters.

Damascus, one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world and a center of Middle Eastern culture for millennia, has been rocked by violence in the last two months as the war between the Syrian opposition and government has escalated. A costly stalemate has seen the Syrian government hammer rebel positions in outlying neighborhoods with artillery, mortars and airstrikes, and rebels return fire.

Strategic suburbs have been laid to waste. Since last summer, when the battles in Damascus' suburbs intensified, rebel fighters have manufactured their own rockets and mortars to shell state security offices in the city. At the end of last year, several neighborhoods in northern and southern Damascus fell to the opposition.

Since the start of 2013, residents of central Damascus, who previously felt immune to the war, began to worry about rocket and mortar strikes, whether from the rebels or the government. The opposition has warned people to steer clear of areas with security offices, which are clustered in central Damascus.

Military experts describe the Syrian government as focusing on defending the capital, even as it cedes territory to rebels in the north and south of the country. Rebels have insisted for months that the final battle for Damascus is looming, and the capital has become shrouded in dread.

A suicide bombing at a Damascus mosque last month killed about 50 people, including a Sunni Muslim preacher loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad. A bombing in February near the main Baath Party headquarters killed 52 people.

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