Two bombs have gone off in the Syrian capital Damascus, one killing at least six people near a Shia shrine, state media and opposition activists said, as heavy shelling was reported across the city.
The first deadly blast, which happened in the Sayeda Zainab district on Wednesday, also wounded 13 people but the number of people killed after a carbomb went off in the southwest of the city was not clear, Al Jazeera sources said.
The semi-official Addounia television said the deadly bomb was placed in a garbage bag.
Another bomb in the area was defused, the station reported.
“The explosion occurred just east of the shrine. Lots of people are also wounded,” said one of the activists in the area, who declined to be named.
“Security personnel have swarmed the area. It is not clear whether the target was the shrine or a security compounding adjacent to it,” the activist added.
Groups opposed to Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, say seven people died in the blast.
The poor neighbourhood, inhabited by a mix of Sunni and Shia Muslims, is marked by the coloured tile and mirror shrine, located near several security compounds, as well as an office for Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shia Iraqi cleric.
Southwest of Damascus, an explosion on Wednesday shook the town of Moadamiyat al-Sham, scene of heavy battles between rebels and troops, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Several people were reportedly wounded in the explosion.
As the 19-month revolt against Assad claims more lives, sectarian tension has increased between members of Syria’s Sunni majority and Assad’s Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam that has dominated power in the country since the 1960s.
Hopes pinned on China
Meanwhile, Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League envoy, has expressed hope, after holding talks in Beijing with Yang Jiechi, Chinese foreign minister, that China will play an active role in helping end the violence in Syria.
Speaking in the Chinese capital on Wednesday, Brahimi said he hoped “China can play an active role in solving the events in Syria” without elaborating further.
For his part, Yang urged the world community to support Brahimi’s mediation efforts, and to support a “political transition”.
“The international community should fully co-operate with and support envoy Brahimi’s mediation efforts with a more intense sense of urgency and responsibility,” Xinhua state news agency cited Yang as telling the envoy.
“China believes that the situation in Syria is worsening by the day … The only realistic way out is to resolve the
Syria issue through political channels.”
China, an ally of Syria, has exercised its veto along with Russia in the UN Security Council to block resolutions aimed at putting more pressure on Assad.
According to the Chinese foreign ministry’s website, Yang met an Assad envoy in August and an opposition delegation the next month, both times stressing the need for dialogue.
He cautioned the opposition about outside forces directing any political transition, while he told Assad’s envoy that both sides in the conflict should work with international mediation efforts.
Brahimi, who succeeded former UN chief Kofi Annan after he quit over what he called a lack of international support, is due to present new proposals for resolving the conflict to the UN Security Council next month.
His two-day visit to China came after he met Russia’s foreign minister in Moscow and described the conflict as going from bad to worse.
Nineteen months after protests against the Assad regime erupted last year, clashes between rebels and the regular army are raging in many parts of Syria.
The opposition says more than 32,000 people have been killed. Hundreds of thousands have fled to neighbouring countries.
Activists reported fighting and air raids in eastern suburbs of Damascus on Wednesday.
Fierce clashes were also reported in the northwestern province of Idlib, where opposition fighters attacked highway military checkpoints and battles raged over the rebel-held town of Maaret al-Numan and the Wadi Daif army base.
Separately, Syria’s state news agency said an “armed terrorist group” assassinated a high-ranking air force general on Tuesday.
Major-General Abdullah Mahmoud al-Khalidi was shot while getting out of his car in the Rukn al-Din neighbourhood in Damascus, the report said.
Rebels claimed responsibility for the killing.