Clashes erupt near Damascus airport in wake of car bombing

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Syrian warplanes and artillery hit targets near Damascus airport following a bloody day of attacks in the capital that killed dozens and struck deep into President Assad’s seat of power.

There were no immediate reports of casualties from yesterday’s shelling, which targeted the towns of Beit Sahm and Shebaa.

Clashes in rebel strongholds of Daraya and Moadamiyeh were reported by the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Co-ordination Committees.

Recent rebel advances in the Damascus suburbs, combined with bombings and three straight days of mortar attacks, mark the most sustained challenge of the civil war for control of Bashar Assad’s powerbase.

Syrian state media said a car bombing on Thursday in the heart of Damascus was a suicide attack that killed 53 civilians and wounded more than 200, including children. Anti-regime activists put the death toll at 61, which would make it the deadliest Damascus bombing of the revolt.

The main opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, condemned the attack without accusing any specific group of carrying it out. It did, however, suggest that the regime allowed foreign terror groups to operate in Syria.

“The terrorist Assad regime bears the most responsibility for all the crimes that happen in the homeland because it has opened the doors to those with different agendas to enter Syria and harm its stability so it can hide behind this and use it as an excuse to justify its crimes,” the group said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but suspicion is likely to fall on one of the most extreme of Syria’s myriad rebel factions, Jabhat al-Nusra, which is linked to al-Qaida. The group has claimed similar previous bombings against regime targets.

The Syrian National Coalition said it would welcome US and Russian mediation to negotiate a peace deal to end the country’s civil war but insisted it would not allow Mr Assad or members of his security services to participate in the talks.