THE LEVANT NEWS -GAZIANTEP, Turkey — A car bomb tore up a vegetable market and a police officers’ club in Damascus, the Syrian capital, on Tuesday, according to a witness and to regional news reports, striking an area that had been quiet for about two years under a local agreement between the Syrian government and insurgents.
The Islamic State, using its official media channels, claimed responsibility for the blast, which the witness said had wounded dozens in Masaken Barzeh, a neighborhood on the northern edge of the city. It was the first attack in Damascus itself to be claimed by the Islamic State, although the group said it was behind an assault last month on the Sayeda Zeinab shrine, on the outskirts of the capital, that left dozens dead.
The blast on Tuesday came amid government advances against insurgents in northern Syria, a signal that even as the leadership goes on the offensive in some parts of the country, government-controlled areas, including those believed to be secure, remain vulnerable.
According to the witness, a large explosion hit the officers’ club, which was frequented by government troops as well as by allied fighters from the Lebanese group Hezbollah. The witness also said the blast had blown out the windows of his home, 100 yards away.
The Islamic State said in a statement that the police officers’ club had been the target of the bombing. But the club is inside a market, adding to the likelihood that civilians could be killed or wounded.
No official death toll was immediately available, but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group based in Britain that has extensive contacts inside Syria, said that eight police officers had been killed and about 20 had been wounded.
The blast was believed to be the most violent episode in the area since insurgents under the banner of the Free Syrian Army reached a truce there.
Under the deal, the insurgents maintain security in the neighborhood and they have, at times, set up checkpoints at the entrance to the district, next to ones controlled by security forces.
Unlike other local deals, which have been more lopsided — akin to surrenders after long sieges — the insurgents in Barzeh had real leverage. They were not besieged and were controlling a route that government forces needed to reach a military hospital. But the Islamic State is not a party to such deals, and it considers both the national government and the Free Syrian Army to be enemies.
The witness said he had seen dozens of security officers aiding the victims, some of whom were taken away in private cars.