Blast near Damascus kills 16, state media say

BEIRUT (AP) — Syria’s state news agency said Thursday that a bomb blast near a school in a Damascus suburb killed 16 people, at least half of them women and children.

The deputy foreign minister of Russia, one of Syria’s most important international allies, said Syrian President Bashar Assad is increasingly losing control and the opposition may win. It was the first acknowledgement by Moscow that Assad faces a likely defeat.

Rebels have made some significant gains in Syria’s civil war recently, such as capturing two major military bases. They are also mounting a serious challenge to the regime in its seat of power, the capital Damascus.

The blast in the suburb of Qatana, southwest of the capital, is the latest in a string of similar bombings in and around Damascus that the government says have killed at least 25 people in the last two days.

While no one has claimed responsibility for the bombings, some have targeted government buildings and killed officials, suggesting that rebels who can’t engage Assad’s forces directly in Damascus are resorting to other means.

The government blames the bombings on terrorists, its shorthand for rebel fighters.

In Thursday’s attack, a car packed with explosives blew up near a school in a residential part of the southwestern suburb of Qatana, Syria’s SANA news agency said.

The report quoted medics from a nearby hospital as saying 16 people were killed, including seven children and “a number” of women. It said nearly two dozen people were wounded.

Similar attacks hit four places in and around Damascus on Wednesday. Three bombs collapsed walls of the Interior Ministry building, killing at least five people. One of the dead was Syrian parliament member Abdullah Qairouz, SANA reported.

Other explosions Wednesday hit near the Palace of Justice, in the suburb of Jermana and in the upscale Mezzeh 86 district, heavily populated by members of Assad’s minority Alawite sect. One of the three killed in that that bombing was a state TV journalist named Anmar Mohammed, SANA said.

The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported the deaths of Qairouz and Mohammed.

It said the number of those killed in the Interior Ministry bombing had risen to nine.

The Observatory, which is based in Britain and relies on contacts inside Syria, also reported clashes between rebels and regime forces in a number of areas south of the city as well as government airstrikes on rebellious suburbs to the city’s east and south.

Anti-regime activists say more than 40,000 people have been killed since the start of the anti-Assad uprising in March 2011.

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Associated Press writer Albert Aji contributed reporting from Damascus, Syria.

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