Syrian car bomb attack kills 17
At least 17 people been killed and 14 hurt by a car bomb on the outskirts of Syria's capital, Damascus, reports say.
The target of the blast was unclear, but it struck close to an important Shia shrine and a security post.
Such attacks are rare in Syria and the blast is being seen as the worst threat to national security in many years.
Syrian Interior Minister Bassam Abdul-Majid has described the explosion as a cowardly "terrorist act," but declined to say who he believed was responsible.
People in Damascus have been shocked by the rare attack
Syria's Dunia television said a car packed with 200kg (440 lbs) of explosives was detonated near a security checkpoint on the road to the airport. Security forces cordoned off the area, which is close to the al-Sayyida Zeinab shrine, one of Syria's holiest sites and a popular place of pilgrimage for Iraqi, Iranian and Lebanese Muslims.
Mr Abdul-Majid said that a counter-terror unit was investigating the "cowardly act".
"At the moment, we cannot point to a particular party. However, the ongoing investigations will lead us to the perpetrators," he said.
A spokesman from Syria's ministry of information told the BBC the number of casualties was expected to rise.
Witnesses told Reuters news agency that windows had been shattered on some industrial buildings about 100m (yards) away and the remains of a destroyed car were strewn across the road.
One witness told Syrian TV that the blast had sounded like an earthquake.
"My apartment collapsed, and five of my family members are injured and in the hospital," said the man, who did not give his name.
Another witness said he saw a lot of smoke and that the windows of his truck had shattered. Car bomb attacks are rare in Syria and the attack will be disturbing for the Syrian government, which prides itself on stability, says the BBC's Natalia Antelava in Beirut.
Its critics say that stability comes at the price of democracy, says our correspondent.
This is believed to be the first such incident since a senior Hezbollah military commander, Imad Mughniyeh, was killed in a car bomb in February.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah blamed Israel for the blast, but Israel has denied any involvement.
In August, a senior military official close to President Bashar Assad was shot dead at a beach resort near the port city of Tartus.
Brig Gen Mohammed Suleiman had responsibility for sensitive security issues and was described as Syria's "main interlocutor" in a UN inquiry into alleged Syrian nuclear activity.
On Friday, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, said Mr Suleiman's death would delay the inquiry.
The blast shattered windows of nearby vehicles and buildings
Syria has faced diplomatic isolation since the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. Syria's critics have blamed it for the murder but Damascus strongly denies any involvement.
But BBC Middle East analyst Andrew Bolton says the attack has happened at a time when Syria is at something of a political crossroads.
Earlier this month, Syria took part in talks with Turkey, Qatar and France, which currently holds the EU presidency, in a bid to boost efforts towards peace in the Middle East.
Mr Assad said he hoped the summit would form a basis for direct peace talks with Israel.
Syria has remained in a state of war with Israel since the latter's foundation in 1948.
Despite the new-found willingness to talk, there are still tensions between the Syrians and Israelis, says our analyst.
Divisive issues include Syrian support for groups like the Palestinian Islamist movement, Hamas, and the Lebanese movement, Hezbollah.