DAMASCUS - A bomb exploded in central Damascus near military buildings and a hotel housing UN observers on Wednesday, wounding three people, and rebels clashed with security forces in the Syrian capital.
No UN staff were hurt in the blast, which occurred exactly four weeks after a bomb killed four of President Bashar al-Assad's top security officials, including his brother-in-law.
State media said three people were injured in the bombing and several rebels were killed or captured in the gun battle in the western district of Mezze. Opposition activists said the fighting erupted after insurgents attacked security checkpoints.
Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said the bomb blast proved "the criminal and barbaric nature of those who carry out these attacks - and their backers in Syria and abroad".
Fire-fighters were dousing a fuel tanker set ablaze when the bomb detonated at 8:30 am in a car park behind the hotel. Ash and dust covered white UN vehicles parked nearby.
UN emergency relief coordinator Valerie Amos, on a mission to seek more access for aid deliveries, was meeting European Union officials in Damascus when the bomb exploded.
She herself was unable to reach the town of Douma, a trouble spot just north of the capital, due to bombardment.
"Waiting at checkpoint to get into Duma. Sounds of shelling. Could not enter," Amos tweeted.
The authorities told her she had been turned back for her own safety, her spokesman said later.
Although the Damascus bombing occurred close to the hotel, its target was not clear.
The area is home to a Syrian army officers' club and a building belonging to the ruling Baath Party.
It is also not far from the army command.
Groups calling themselves The Descendants of the Prophet Brigade and the al-Habib al-Mustafa Brigade said on a Facebook page they were jointly responsible and that the attack had killed 50 soldiers.
It was impossible to verify that claim.