Men stand amidst wreckage and debris, after a car bomb exploded at a crowded petrol station in Barzeh al-Balad district in Damascus, in this handout photograph released by Syria's national news agency SANA.

Beirut -

At least nine people were killed when a car bomb exploded in the Syrian capital Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said early on Friday.

Many were also seriously wounded in the attack in a northern neighbourhood of the city, and the death toll may climb, the group's director Rami Abdel Rahmane told AFP.

The Observatory, which relies on a network of fighters and doctors to monitor the conflict in Syria, said the attack ocurred in a neighbourhood with a large population of Alawites, an offshoot of Shi’a Islam and the minority community of President Bashar al-Assad.

State news agency SANA said the incident was a “terrorist attack” that had targeted a petrol station near a hospital.

The Syrian authorities refer to the anti-Assad rebels as “terrorists” armed and funded from outside the country.

The Syrian Revolution General Commission (SRGC) activist network also reported the attack, saying large numbers of regime troops had deployed in the neighbourhood afterwards.

The SRGC also said there had been prolonged gunfire but did not say where it came from.

At least 160 people, including 72 civilians, died on Thursday in Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

On Wednesday, the United Nations said the overall death toll from the 21-month conflict had surpassed 60 000. - Sapa-AFP