DAMASCUS: Death toll in the serial suicide attacks targeting the revered shrine of Hazrat Zainab (AS) the granddaughter of the holy Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh), near Damascus in Syria has reached 70, media reports said Monday.
State news agency SANA said the first blast was caused by a car bomb that detonated at a bus station near the shrine Sunday afternoon.
It said two suicide bombers then detonated their explosive belts when people gathered at the scene.
The eyewitnesses said the blasts caused massive damage, shattering windows and ripping a huge crater in the road.
Smoke rose from the twisted carcasses of more than a dozen cars and a bus damaged in the blasts, as ambulances ferried away the wounded and firefighters worked to put out blazes started by the bombings.
The shrine south of the capital contains the grave of Hazrat Zainab, sister of Imam Hussain, and is particularly revered as a pilgrimage site by Muslims.
It has continued to attract pilgrims from Syria and beyond, particularly from Iran, Lebanon, and Iraq, throughout the war, and has been targeted in previous bomb attacks.
In February 2015, two suicide attacks killed four people and wounded 13 at a checkpoint near the shrine.
Also that month, a blast ripped through a bus carrying Lebanese pilgrims headed to Hazrat Zainab (RA), killing at least nine people, in an attack claimed by Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Sunday’s attack.
The area around the shrine is heavily secured with regime checkpoints set up hundreds of metres away to prevent vehicles from getting close to the shrine of Hazrat Zainab (RA).
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, members of Lebanon’s powerful group Hezbollah are guarding the shrine.
The Britain-based monitor said 47 people were killed in the blasts, including a car bomb that targeted a checkpoint, and included non-Syrian militants without specifying their nationalities.
Damascus bombings aim to disrupt peace talks: Syrian Foreign Ministry
Syria has condemned the triple bomb attacks that hit a suburb of the capital, describing the bombings as an attempt to thwart Syrian-Syrian dialog underway in Switzerland.
Syrias Foreign Ministry issued the condemnation in two identical letters addressed to the United Nations (UN)s secretary general and the president of the UN Security Council.
The bombings came as delegates from the Syrian government and its divided opposition groups have gathered in Geneva, Switzerland, for UN-brokered negotiations aimed at finding a solution to the conflict that has been going on in Syria since March 2011.
In the Sunday letters, the Syrian Foreign Ministry said the militant attacks were part of attempts by terrorist organizations which it said are backed by foreign states such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to disrupt ongoing peace efforts and to spread terror among the local population.
It said the attacks are also meant to raise the morale of the terrorist groups that have been suffering heavy losses as the Syrian army continues to regain ground in militant-held areas.
The letters said, What caught our attention is that the perpetrator of this crime had said in a statement that the bombing comes in support of the opposition delegation coming from Riyadh to participate in the talks with the government delegation in Geneva.
The Foreign Ministry also called on the letters recipients to condemn the Sunday bombings. It urged the Security Council to take deterrent measures against the countries that support terrorism.
Iran has also condemned the bomb attacks, saying that the foreign-sponsored militants in Syria are attempting to disrupt the Geneva peace talks.
Bashar al-Jaafari, the head of the Syrian government delegation to the talks, also said at a press conference in Geneva that the bomb attacks are proof of the link between the so-called opposition delegates and the terrorists in the country.
Separately, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement that the incident near the holy shrine is clearly aimed to disrupt the attempts to start a political process. She condemned the bombings.
The peace talks for Syria are to be held in an 18-month timetable under a resolution unanimously approved by the UN Security Council on Syria last December. Resolution 2254 endorses a roadmap for a peace process in Syria. It also calls for a nationwide ceasefire in the Arab country, the formation of a credible, inclusive and non-sectarian government within six months and UN-supervised free and fair elections within 18 months.
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