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February 22, 2013

Death Toll Rises in Damascus Blasts

by VOA News

A Syrian expatriate rights group says a series of bombings in Damascus has killed at least 83 people, including more than 60 near the headquarters of the nation's ruling Ba'ath party.  

Most of the victims are said to be civilians, including many children from a nearby school, with 17 of the dead reported to be members of the security forces.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Friday that Thursday's attacks included not only the blast at the Ba'ath party headquarters but another three car bombings that killed 22 people in the northern district of Barzeh, home to the nation's security headquarters.  Most of the dead were soldiers.

The attacks, which also left hundreds wounded, resulted in one of the bloodiest days in the Syrian capital in nearly two years.

Central Damascus has been relatively insulated from the nearly two years of violence in Syria.

Syrian state media called the central Damascus blast a "terrorist bombing" that struck a densely populated area near the al-Mazraa neighborhood.  TV footage showed bloodied and charred bodies lying in the street.  

Meanwhile, the Syrian opposition met Thursday in Cairo to discuss whether to possibly hold peace talks with President Bashar al-Assad's government.  

The opposition has offered to talk with government officials who have "no blood on their hands."  The Assad government has said it is ready to negotiate with the opposition, but without pre-conditions.

In New York, the United Nations and the Arab League have extended the mission of their joint envoy to Syria through the end of the year.  U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky announced that Lakhdar Brahimi's contract has been renewed through the rest of 2013.  It had been set to expire Friday.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.