Middle East

Syria crisis: PM Halqi survives Damascus car bombing

Media captionThe BBC's Wyre Davis reports from Beirut: "It shows really the ability of the armed opposition groups to strike at the heart of the regime"

Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi has survived a car bomb attack in the capital, Damascus, state media say.

The blast in the capital's western Mazzeh district targeted Mr Halqi's convoy, state TV said, causing a number of casualties.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based activist group, said one of Mr Halqi's bodyguards was among several others killed.

It is unclear whether the blast was a suicide bombing or a planted device.

State television carried a brief interview with Mr Halqi, saying that it was filmed after the attack.

Image caption Mr Halqi survived but his bodyguard was reported killed

He appears assured but somewhat shaken in the interview, in which he talks about a meeting he has just attended on the economy.

State TV said the blast happened at a busy intersection, near a public garden and a school. The upmarket neighbourhood is home to government buildings, the residences of several political figures and a military airport vital to the regime's defences.

"I was walking in the street when suddenly there was a very powerful explosion and I saw a car burning and people running," a witness told AFP.

An unnamed Syrian official said the explosion was caused by a bomb placed underneath a parked car in the area, the Associated Press news agency reported.

An earlier report said it had been a suicide attack.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights quoted medical sources as saying five civilians in the area were also killed.

The activist group quoted medical sources as saying Mr Halqi's driver and another bodyguard were seriously injured.

Footage from the scene showed the charred remains of several vehicles, and a badly damaged bus. Debris and glass were strewn around a wide area, where onlookers had gathered.

A picture that activists said was of the site just after the attack showed a large plume of black smoke rising into the air near a road and a high-rise building.

Syrian forces and rebels have been fighting around Damascus for months but with neither side gaining the upper hand.

The attack is the latest bombing inside government-controlled areas of the capital.

In December a suicide bombing struck the interior ministry. State media said top officials had escaped unhurt, but it later emerged that the interior minister himself had been badly injured.

So far there has been no claim of responsibility for Monday's attack. Similar bombings in the past have been linked to the jihadist al-Nusra Front, one of the most prominent rebel groups fighting the regime.

Mr Halqi, a senior member of the ruling Baath party, became prime minister last year after Riad Hijab defected to Jordan. He was previously health minister.

More than 70,000 people have been killed since fighting between Syrian forces and rebels erupted in March 2011.