Middle East

Syria conflict: Damascus and Suweida hit by deadly blast

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Media captionVideo shows the aftermath of the Damascus blast

Eight people have been killed in a blast in the centre of the Syrian capital, Damascus, the Sana state news agency reports.

It said 50 were also wounded in the Hijaz Square explosion, which hit the offices of the railway company.

Eight people were also killed by a rare blast in the town of Suweida, home to Syria's Druze minority, say reports.

Suweida has remained under government control through the conflict, and had so far been largely free of violence.

Wednesday's blast there went off outside the headquarters of the Air Force Intelligence, the most feared security service in Syria.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based activist group, said it had been a suicide car bomb and that the intelligence branch chief was among those killed.

Image caption A security chief was reportedly killed in the Suweida attack

Sana blamed the attack on "terrorists", the government's way of referring to rebels forces.

Syria's Druze minority - adherents of an offshoot of Shia Islam - numbers about 700,000. Its main leadership has so far stayed out of the conflict publicly.

Moscow talks offer

The Observatory said were conflicting reports about whether the Damascus explosion had been caused by a bomb or a mortar shell.

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Media captionInternational envoy on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi: "The situation in Syria is extremely bad"

No group has said it was behind the blast but Sana again quoted police sources blaming "terrorists.

Last month, an explosion near Damascus airport cut off power to large parts of Syria.

The attacks come a day after the latest round of international diplomacy failed to fix a date for a long-delayed peace conference on the Syrian conflict.

The UN-Arab League envoy on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, had hoped to hold the conference in Geneva this month.

But he said he was not able to announce a date, despite a day of meetings first with senior diplomats from the US and Russia, then with the other permanent members of the UN Security Council - the UK, France and China - as well as Syria's neighbours Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Turkey.

Mr Brahimi said he was still "striving" for a summit by the end of the year.

Attempts to set up a conference have been going on for months amid disputes over who should attend and its agenda.

The Syrian opposition has insisted President Bashar al-Assad should resign before any talks can take begin, but the government has rejected this.

The US and Russia disagree on whether Syria's key regional neighbour Iran should be present.

The idea of a conference was first mooted in May, and in September UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced a tentative date of mid-November after the Security Council passed a binding resolution on Syrian chemical weapons.

On Wednesday, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov was quoted as saying that Moscow was ready to host "informal" talks between President Assad and the Syrian opposition to begin the peace process.

Aid needs rising

Mr Bogdanov, who was involved in the talks with Mr Brahimi, said such a meeting would help to create "a favourable atmosphere, so that people can meet and discuss existing issues", Russian media quoted him as saying.

Meanwhile, aid agencies have warned that more than nine million Syrians, almost half the population, are now in need of humanitarian relief.

The UN estimates that more than two million people have fled Syria since the unrest began in March 2011, resulting in a humanitarian crisis.

Most have sought refuge in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.

More than 100,000 people are estimated to have been killed since the conflict began.