BEIRUT: A suicide bomber killed nine people and wounded 20 outside a central Damascus mosque on Friday, Syrian state television said, in another blow to a peace plan that the United Nations says President Bashar al-Assad has failed to honor.
The blast ripped through worshippers at the Zain al-Abideen mosque, which was under heavy security for Friday prayers, often a launchpad for anti-Assad protests, opposition activists said. State media said security officials were among the wounded.
"We had been trying to go pray in the area but they stopped us at a checkpoint. Security weren't letting us in because there are usually protests there," one anti-Assad activist told Reuters in neighboring Lebanon.
"Then we heard the blast. It was so loud and then ambulances came rushing past us," the activist added. "I could see a few body parts and pieces of flesh on the road. The front of a restaurant looked destroyed. People were screaming."
State television showed images of blackened flesh and a mangled hand lying on a motorway underpass as soldiers and police cleared the area to make way for ambulance crews.
A resident who spoke to security officials at the scene said a man had approached soldiers near the mosque and detonated a bomb belt when challenged. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Earlier, a loud blast was heard in the capital's al Sinaa district near a garage used by government buses and pro-Assad militiamen tasked with preventing demonstrations.
Shopkeepers said the first blast hit a black Mercedes, which caught fire. The driver was wounded but no one else was hurt.
VIOLENCE "PICKING UP"
The United Nations says Syrian forces have killed more than 9,000 people in the 13-month-old revolt against Assad. Damascus says insurgents have killed more than 2,600 soldiers and police.
Central Damascus has been spared much of the violence, although Friday's blasts occurred less than a week after a car bomb near an Iranian cultural centre in the capital.
"The action is picking up and it seems the (rebels) and Assad's forces are starting to battle it out in Damascus as well," said Mar Ram, an activist in Midan, the district where the Zain al-Abideen mosque is located.
Most independent media have been barred from Syria, making it hard to verify events on the ground.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon accused Damascus on Thursday of breaking its pledge to withdraw heavy weapons and troops from towns, saying he was "gravely alarmed by reports of continued violence and killing in Syria.
The Syrians for Human Rights Network, one of many groups seeking to topple Assad, said security forces had committed 86 ceasefire violations, including a helicopter gunship opening fire on a civilian area and snipers targeting protesters.
Information Minister Adnan Mahmoud accused rebels of 1,300 truce breaches and said the state "reserved the right to respond to any violation or attack," state news agency SANA reported.
A handful of U.N. ceasefire monitors is already on the ground and U.N. officials said the full advance team of 30 out of a planned 300-strong presence would be there by Monday.
The slow build-up has sparked derision from Assad's foes and frustration in Western capitals, where leaders want tough measures imposed on Damascus sooner rather than later.
France says it is planning to push next month for a "Chapter 7" Security Council resolution if Assad's forces do not pull back - a diplomatic move that could lead to action ranging from economic sanctions to military intervention.
Western powers have said they intend to push for an arms embargo and U.N. sanctions.
Russia and China have made clear that they would veto any attempt to authorize Libya-style military action in Syria and have resisted the idea of sanctions.