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Syria on Thursday denied terrorism was behind a bomb blast that ripped through a bus carrying Iranian pilgrims near a major Shi'ite religious shrine in Damascus, leaving at least three dead.

The official Syrian news agency reported that the blast was caused by a blown out tire. The tire blew while the driver and the owner of a repair shop and another employee were trying to repair, killing all three. Though earlier reports indicated that at least a dozen people had been killed, the news agency confirmed that only three were dead.

"There was no terrorism factor behind the bus incident," Syrian Interior Minister Said Sammour said. "The bus entered a petrol station to have one of its burst tires inflated and the tire exploded. Three people were killed."

The blast took place as Saeed Jalili, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, was visiting Damascus for meetings with Syrian officials.

"Body parts are still scattered around the bus," a witness told Reuters. Several more people were wounded in the explosion in the Sayyeda Zainab area in Damascus.


View Damascus explosion - December 3, 2009 in a larger map

Other witnesses said the rear part of the bus was ripped open. Buildings around the site of the blast sustained damage and glass from broken windows littered the street.

Lebanon's al-Manar television, mouthpiece of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group, said at least one of the dead was an Iranian national.

A doctor at a nearby hospital said the hospital had an undisclosed number of people being treated from wounds.

Syria has been hit by bomb attacks in recent years. A car bomb attack on a security complex near Damascus airport killed 17 people in September 2008. That attack was blamed on Lebanon-based Islamist militant group with links to al-Qaida.

Syrian security forces deployed in the area, a popular destination for Shi'ites from Iran and Lebanon, and were investigating the blast. There was no official word on the explosion from the authorities.

Bomb attacks, along with a series of attacks against targets in Syria in the last three years, including U.S. and Israeli raids, has shaken the image of stability in a country that has recently emerged from international isolation.