A car bomb killed at least eight security personnel on Wednesday in an attack on a military intelligence building in the southern Syrian city of Suweida, which has been largely peaceful during the Syrian civil war.
“A suicide attacker detonated himself in a car bomb in front of the air force intelligence headquarters in Sweida,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdelrahman told AFP .
Abdelrahman said a colonel was among security officers killed in the blast at the regional Air Force Intelligence headquarters in the city, populated mostly by minority Druze . Clashes erupted after the explosion, he said.
A photograph uploaded by activists showed a thick column of smoke rising above the Suweida skyline.
The state news agency SANA said the Suweida blast wounded 41 people but made no mention of the target, saying only that a “terrorist” car bomb had hit a square in the city.
Rebels have seized a ring of suburbs outside the capital but the army has blockaded these areas to try to keep central Damascus secure, according to Reuters . Insurgents have resorted to improvised bombs to strike security and political targets in government-held areas.
On the diplomatic front, world powers have failed to set up a date for a peace conference  that would bring together President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the Syrian opposition on one table.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said on Wednesday his country is ready to host informal talks between Syrian Assad’s government and the opposition, the ITAR-TASS news agency reported.
The news agency quoted Bogdanov, who represented Russia at talks in Geneva on Tuesday with US officials and U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, as saying that the consultations “do not necessarily have to end in some sort of agreement.”
It was most important to “create an atmosphere for (future) talks,” the news agency quoted Bogdanov as saying in Geneva.
Bogdanov added that some opposition groups have already agreed to come to Moscow, although he provided no further details, the ITAR-TASS report said.
The Russian diplomat explained that the talks could pave the way for the staging of a formal Geneva 2 conference involving the warring parties and world powers as well as regional Arab states.
The Geneva 2 conference has been delayed throughout the year because of disagreements about who might attend and some rebel leaders’ insistence on making Assad’s ouster a precondition for the meeting.
Brahimi said on Tuesday that he still hoped the Geneva 2 meeting could be held before the end of the year.
Bogdanov said the informal Moscow meeting could offer the opportunity for “people to simply meet each other and discuss problems now standing before the Syrian people -- both those represented by the government and the opposition,” Interfax reported.