- Associated Press - Sunday, October 21, 2012

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — A taxi rigged with explosives blew up near a police station in the Syrian capital Sunday, killing at least 13 people even as the U.N. envoy to the nation’s crisis was visiting Damascus to push his call for a cease-fire in talks with President Bashar Assad.

Syria‘sSANA state news agency said 29 people were also wounded in the blast in the Bab Touma neighborhood, a popular shopping district largely inhabited by Syria‘s Christian minority.

Once largely immune to the violence that has swept over Syria since the anti-Assad revolt began in March 2011, Damascus has become a frequent target of bombings in recent months. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Sunday’s blast, but Islamist groups fighting alongside the rebels have claimed to be behind bomb attacks against security targets in the capital.

Two Syrian officials speaking from the scene said the taxi blew up 50 yards from Bab Touma’s main police station. The officials insisted on anonymity because they were not allowed to brief the media.

An Associated Press reporter at the site of the blast said blood stained the street and sidewalks, shards of glass littered the pavement from shattered shop windows and the charred hulks of at least four cars littered the street.

** FILE ** Syrian President Bashar Assad (left) greets U.N. and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi before their closed-door meeting in Damascus, Syria, on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012. (AP Photo/SANA)
** FILE ** Syrian President Bashar Assad (left) greets U.N. and Arab ... more >

Vegetable vendor Mohammad Hanbali, 27, said several people wounded in the blast were lying on the street when he rushed to help.

“It’s a cowardly act, carried out by terrorists,” said Mr. Hanbali, who was hit by a piece of shrapnel in the left leg.

SANA put the death toll at 13, while the anti-regime Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 10 people were killed in the blast.

In another part of capital, U.N. and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met with Mr. Assad as part of his push for a cease-fire between rebels and government forces for the four-day Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which begins Oct. 26.

Mr. Brahimi told reporters following a closed-door meeting that he had met earlier with Syrian opposition groups inside and outside the country to discuss his truce plan. He said he received “promises” but not a “commitment” from them to honor the cease-fire.

He noted that he “found an overwhelming response” from Mr. Assad’s opponents to his cease-fire plan and that “all of them have said that it’s a good idea which they support.”

He declined to reveal Mr. Assad’s response to his plan, viewed as a preliminary step toward a larger deal.

But SANA said Mr. Assad assured Mr. Brahimi that he supported his effort, but the agency did not say whether he committed to a truce.

“The president said he is open to any sincere effort to find a political solution to the crisis on the basis of respecting the Syrian sovereignty and rejecting foreign interference,” SANA said.

It said Mr. Assad also stressed that a political solution must be “based on the principle of halting terrorism, a commitment from the countries involved in supporting, arming and harboring terrorists in Syria to stop doing such acts.”

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