“These explosions always come after accomplishments are made by the Syrian Arab Army, and after accomplishments made by the government,” he said at a news conference aired by Syria’s state-run al-Akhbariya network.
Halki went on to attend several afternoon cabinet meetings as scheduled, state media reported.
Opposition activists claimed that more than 50 other people were killed Monday in shelling and clashes across the country.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based watchdog group, said in a statement shortly after the bombing that at least one of the prime minister’s bodyguards was killed and another critically injured. The group relies on a network of activists throughout the country for its reporting.
Television footage showed firefighters shooting water onto the wreckage of a twisted and smoldering car, amid a landscape of scattered debris on a Damascus street. At least one bus also appeared to be battered and burned.
One resident of the Mezzeh neighborhood said she ran outside in her nightclothes after hearing the blast, frantic to find her son who attends school nearby. “I saw the black column of smoking gathering in the distance near my son’s school, and my heart fell,” the woman said. Like many Syrian activists and witnesses of the nation’s spiraling violence, she declined to be identified for fear of reprisal from the government or other groups.
The woman, interviewed by telephone, said she found a scene of chaos when she reached the site of the blast. Dozens of police ran amid the debris, where she said several cars were on fire. The sounds of sirens from approaching ambulances and the smell of burning rubber filled the air. Spectators, including several parents and children from the nearby school, stood watching the scene in tears, she said.
Multiple television news outlets allied with the government said the bombing was a “suicide” attack.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which bore the hallmark of Sunni Muslim extremist groups in Syria, but SANA blamed “terrorists.”
The government has repeatedly cast its rivals — ranging from civilian opposition activists to hardened extremist fighters — as “terrorists” in a bid to win support for its battle, both domestically and abroad.
A bombing that targeted the national security headquarters in Damascus during a cabinet meeting in July 2012 killed Syria’s defense minister and his deputy, Assad’s brother-in-law, and wounded the interior minister. In December, a car bomb and other explosions damaged the Interior Ministry and caused dozens of casualties.
Syria’s civil war has grown increasingly sectarian in more than two years of bitter bloodletting between government forces, dominated by Assad’s minority Alawite sect, and a predominantly Sunni rebel movement.
In recent weeks, violent clashes have raged in areas of the countryside surrounding Damascus, where government forces have shelled towns and neighborhoods in an attempt to rout Syrian rebels who have been making slow gains on the capital.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 100 people were killed in a five-day government offensive in the town of Jdeidet al-Fadel this month. Other activists said the death toll was likely in the hundreds.
The increasingly complex nature of Syria’s war, which has evolved from a peaceful protest movement repressed by the government to a divided battleground of militarized forces backed by sectarian groups and regional powers, has presented Washington and its allies with a dilemma in seeking a solution — or possible intervention.
The Assad government, meanwhile, has used bombings such as Monday’s attack to support its argument that its collapse would yield only a state dominated by terrorists hostile to Western interests.
Hauslohner reported from Beirut. Ahmed Ramadan in Beirut contributed to this report.