BEIRUT, Lebanon — A series of car bomb blasts shook the Syrian capital, Damascus, early Sunday, killing at least 18 people and highlighting security gaps in parts of the country controlled by President Bashar al-Assad, according to an opposition monitoring group.
A suicide bomber blew up the car he was driving near the heart of Damascus after being surrounded by security forces, while two other car bombs were detonated after security forces tried to intercept the vehicles on the edge of the city.
Syrian state teevision reported eight deaths and 13 injured, but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition monitoring group based in Britain, reported that 18 victims were killed, including the three attackers.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks, but both the jihadists of the Islamic State and militants linked to Al Qaeda have claimed recent attacks inside the city in the past. Bomb attacks in March that targeted buses carrying pilgrims and a judicial building near the city center killed dozens of people.
The blasts came as Mr. Assad has solidified his control over most of Syria’s main cities, where the majority of the country’s remaining population lives. But that control has come at great cost, with the country’s economy badly battered and many towns and neighborhoods destroyed.
More than half of Syria’s prewar population of 22 million has been displaced since the start of the civil war in 2011, and millions of Syrians have sought refuge in neighboring countries.
Mr. Assad’s forces have struggled to maintain security in areas under their control while continuing to battle rebels seeking Mr. Assad’s ouster as well as jihadist groups that have exploded the war’s chaos to seize territory and set up operations.