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The government blamed the attack on terrorists, the term it uses to describe rebels. Syria prevents journalists from working independently, making it difficult to verify accounts from either side in the conflict.

The country has been hit by a wave of explosions in recent months, killing dozens of people. Most targeted government security agencies.

Last month, an explosion targeted a military intelligence compound south of Damascus, killing 55 people. It was Syria’s deadliest blast.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland condemned the latest bombing in Syria. She said that “the longer Assad continues on his current course, the longer he perpetrates violence against his own people, he creates the conditions for this kind of loss of control, including in the capital.”

Also Thursday, Syria’s state-run news agency, SANA, said terrorists assassinated a professor at the Petrochemical Engineering College at al-Baath University in the central province of Homs, along with five of her relatives.

Gunmen broke into her home and shot her, her parents and three nephews, SANA said.

World powers will meet Saturday in Geneva for talks on Syria, but few observers expect a major breakthrough. Syria has the protection or Russia, a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council, and has so far been impervious to international pressure.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow will not endorse a call for Assad to give up power.

“We are not supporting and will not support any external meddling,” he said. “External players must not dictate … to Syrians, but, first of all, must commit to influencing all the sides in Syria to stop the violence.”

But U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday it was “very clear” that all the participants at the Geneva meeting — including Russia — are on board with a transition plan created by international envoy Kofi Annan.

Clinton told reporters that the invitations to Saturday’s meeting in Geneva made clear that representatives “were coming on the basis of (Annan’s) transition plan.”

Lavrov said it was “obvious that a transitional period is needed to overcome the Syrian crisis,” but insisted any plans for the future rest on Syria and that the major powers in Geneva must focus on convincing the opposition groups to soften their demands.

Diplomatic hopes have rested on Russia to agree to a plan that would end the Assad family dynasty, which has ruled Syria for more than four decades. Russia is Syria’s most important ally, protector and supplier of arms.

There are few options besides keeping up diplomatic pressure, as an international military intervention is all but ruled out in the near future. Few countries are willing to get deeply involved in such an explosive conflict, and Russia and China have pledged to veto any international attempt to intervene.

AP writers Bassem Mroue in Beirut, Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, Mansur Mirovalev in Moscow and and Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.