Damascus -

A powerful car bomb exploded near the headquarters of Syria's ruling Baath party in central Damascus on Thursday, killing and wounding a large number of civilians, official media reported.

“The terrorist explosion killed and wounded a large number of civilians,” state news agency SANA said.

Images of bloodied bodies lying on the ground and of blazing vehicles were broadcast by the official television channel Al-Ekhbariya, which said children were among the wounded, as the blast occurred near a school in the Mazraa district.

A police official told AFP the car bomb exploded at the 16 November Square near the Al-Iman mosque, where the Baath party's head offices are located.

Buildings in the area were also damaged by the blast, which sent thick black smoke billowing across the capital's skyline and all roads in the area were quickly sealed off, an AFP correspondent said.

Ambulances sirens rang out, and machinegun fire was also heard in the area. - Sapa-AFP