Sixty people have been killed, including 25 Shi’ite fighters, and dozens wounded by a car bomb and two suicide bombers, in Sayeda Zeinaba, a district of Damascus where Syria’s holiest Shi’ite shrine is located.
IS claimed responsibility for the attacks, according to Amaq, a news agency that supports the group. It said two operations “hit the most important stronghold of Shi’ite militias in Damascus”.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the casualties were expected to rise. Sayeda Zeinaba is a district of southern Damascus where the Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah, and other Iraqi and Iranian militias have a strong presence.
Rami Abdulrahman, head of the British-based observatory, said the suicide bombers had targeted a military bus carrying Shi’ite militias, who were changing guard there.
The explosions occurred as representatives of Syria’s government, and its divided opposition, began convening in Geneva for the first UN-mediated peace talks in two years. Syrian ambassador, Ibrahim Jaafari, head of the government delegation at Geneva, said the blasts in Damascus just confirmed the link between what the government says are a Saudi-led and funded Islamist ‘opposition’ and terrorism.
State television showed footage of burning buildings and wrecked cars. Syrian state news agency, Sana, quoting an interior ministry source, said militants had detonated a car bomb near a public transport garage in the neighbourhood’s Koua Sudan area.
Two suicide bombers then blew themselves up nearby as people were being rescued. The authorities put the death toll at 45.
“Bodies were still being pulled from the wreckage,” a witness told state news channel, Ikhbariyah. The heavily populated area is a site of pilgrimage for Shi’ites from Iran, Lebanon, and other parts of the Muslim world.
Syrian prime minister, Wael al-Halaki, said the attacks were prompted by “terror groups” who sought to “raise their morale after a string of defeats” by the army. The UN has said it is aiming for six months of talks, first seeking a ceasefire and later working towards a political settlement for Syria.
The nearly five-year conflict has killed more than 250,000 people, driven more than 10m from their homes and drawn in global powers.
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