Car bomb blows up near Baath party HQ in Damascus
DAMASCUS - A powerful car bomb exploded near the headquarters of Syria's ruling Baath party in the centre of Damascus on Thursday, police said.
"It was a car bomb at the 16 November Square, near the Al-Iman mosque," near the Baath party offices, a police official at the scene said.
The blast sent thick smoke billowing across the capital's skyline and all roads in the area were quickly sealed off, an AFP correspondent said.
The bomb blast came as Syria's main opposition National Coalition was meeting Thursday in Cairo, with discussions centered on an offer by the group's chief to hold direct talks with the Syrian regime, a delegate said.
"The meeting of the Coalition has begun and will last two days," delegate Khaled Nasser said. "The agenda is long and among the issues to be discussed is the initiative of Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib."
Coalition chief Khatib has offered to negotiate with officials of President Bashar al-Assad's regime who have no "blood on their hands" -- naming Vice President Faruq al-Sharaa as a possible pointman for the talks.
Assad's regime has said it is ready to negotiate with the opposition but without pre-conditions.
Khatib's initiative has been welcomed by the Arab League and the United States as well as by two of Syria's chief allies, Iran and Russia.
But the Syrian National Council, a key component of the Coalition, has rejected any possibility of dialogue until Assad steps down.
UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi at the weekend urged support for Khatib's plan.
Holding talks "in one of the United Nations' headquarters between the opposition and an acceptable Syrian government delegation would be a start to exiting the dark tunnel," he said in Cairo.