A car bomb has exploded in the Syrian capital, Damascus, killing at least 17 people and wounding 14 others. From Beirut, Edward Yeranian reports the target of the blast was not immediately clear.
Syrian state television says the vehicle, packed with 200 kilograms of explosives, went off Saturday near a crowded intersection, leading to the holy shrine of Sayyeda Zeinab, popular with Shi'ite Muslim pilgrims.
Shi'ite pilgrims from both Iraq and Iran frequent the shrine, and a tour-bus was reportedly damaged by the explosion.
Eyewitnesses say the explosion created a large crater in the road, and that nearly 20 vehicles were destroyed. Windows from dozens of nearby buildings were also blown out and shards of glass littered the area.
One man, who lives in the neighborhood, describes what happened to Syrian Television
"It felt like an earthquake," this man says, "so we went outside to see what happened. Our entire building was damaged, and five of my family members are at the hospital."
A Syrian police precinct borders the site of the explosion, and may have been a possible target, but most of the victims were reportedly civilians.
Syrian security forces immediately closed off the neighborhood to investigate the cause of the bombing. Syria's Interior Minister Bassam Abd al-Megid is calling the bombing an "act of terrorism."
"It was a cowardly act," he says. "We are investigating, and we have dispatched our anti-terrorist squad, to figure out the cause." He says it is not yet known who was behind the bombing, but we will ultimately find out.
Neighboring Iraq has witnessed a plethora of explosions targeting Shi'ite religious shrines in recent years, and Syria reportedly houses close to two million Iraqi refugees.
Another car bomb, in February, killed Hezbollah terrorist Imad Mughniyah in a residential neighborhood of Damascus. Syrian officials accused Israel of the killing, but Israel denied responsibility.
Mughniyeh, was implicated in deadly attacks against Western and Israeli targets in the 1980s and '90s.
A key advisor to President Bashar al-Assad was also killed in the port city of Tartous, in August, but no one claimed responsibility. And an advisor to Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal was assassinated under mysterious circumstances, two weeks ago.
Israeli agents attempted to kill Meshaal, who is now based in Damascus, in 1997, in the Jordanian capital, Amman.