AMMAN - Multiple bomb explosions on Wednesday hit a hilltop district in the Syrian capital Damascus populated by members of Syrian President Bashar Assad's Alawite sect, witnesses said.

The attack occurred a day after deadly tit-for-tat attacks in segregated neighborhoods of the capital, deepening the sectarian divide between the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam that has ruled Syria since the 1960s, and Sunnis leading the 19-month revolt against the Assad family rule.

Smoke was seen rising from the Alawite enclave, known as Mezze 86, which is situated near the presidential palace, from what appeared to be heavy-caliber mortar bombs, several residents of Damascus said by phone.

"Ambulances are heading to the area and the shabbiha (pro-Assad militiamen) are firing automatic rifles madly in the air," said a housewife who did not want to be further identified.

Syrian state television said the attack was carried out by mortar bombs, causing casualties, but gave no further details.

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