More than 40 Iraqis killed in Damascus twin bombings

#SyriaWar

Attacks kill 44 people including many Shia pilgrims and leave more than 40 wounded in a rare strike on the Syrian capital

The scene of a double bombing attack on 11 June, 2016 outside the Sayyida Zeinab shrine in Damascus, which is revered by Shiites (AFP)
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Last update: 
Saturday 11 March 2017 16:09 UTC
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Bombings targeting Shiite pilgrims in Damascus killed around 40 Iraqis on Saturday, the Iraqi foreign ministry said.

"Preliminary statistics indicate the fall of around 40 Iraqi martyrs and 120 wounded," ministry spokesman Ahmed Jamal said in a statement, terming it a "criminal terrorist operation."

A roadside bomb detonated as a bus passed and a suicide bomber blew himself up in the Bab al-Saghir area, which houses several Shiite mausoleums that draw pilgrims from around the world, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has vowed that he would "not hesitate" to strike Islamic militants in neighbouring countries if they posed a threat

"There are also dozens of people wounded, some of them in a serious condition," Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

The director general of the capital's Al-Mujtahed hospital told AFP earlier there were at least 28 people dead and 45 wounded.

The SANA state news agency reported that "two bombs planted by terrorists exploded near the Bab al-Saghir cemetery in Bab Musalla, causing dead and wounded".

Shiite shrines are a frequent target of attack by Sunni militants of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group (IS), not only in Syria but also in neighbouring Iraq.

The Sayeda Zeinab mausoleum to the south of Damascus, Syria's most visited Shiite pilgrimage site, has been hit by several deadly bombings during the six-year-old civil war.

Twin suicide bombings in the high-security Kafr Sousa district of the capital in January killed 10 people, eight of them soldiers.

More peace talks planned 

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Saturday's attack, which the Hezbollah-run al-Manar TV station said had been carried out by two suicide bombers.

However, the attack was later claimed by former al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front, which said that it had targeted Russian military advisers working with the Syrian army.

It was widely seen as an attempt to disrupt UN-brokered peace talks that took place the following month and which to the anger of Fateh al-Sham were supported by its former Islamist rebel ally, Ahrar al-Sham.

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura has called a new round of talks for 23 March.

Fateh al-Sham has been repeatedly bombed in its northwestern stronghold this year, not only by the Syrian army and its Russian ally but also by a US-led coalition battling IS in both Syria and Iraq.

The rift over the UN-brokered talks between the rebels and the government has also seen deadly clashes between the jihadists and their former Islamist rebel allies.

The two groups had together seized virtually all of the northwestern province of Idlib but are now vying for territorial control.

Bomb attacks are rare in Damascus, the Syrian capital and a stronghold of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

It is sometimes the target of shelling by rebel groups who hold areas on the outskirts.

On 16 December, a seven-year-old girl wearing an explosive belt blew herself up outside a police station in Midan district, wounding three police officers.

Two blasts near state security agencies in Kafr Sousa in December 2011 killed more than 40 people and wounded more than 150, the Syrian government said at the time.

Assad during an interview with Hong-Kong based Phoenix TV said that his military's priority is to reach Islamic State's de facto capital Raqqa, where US-backed Kurdish-led forces are advancing.

Despite describing the latest dispatch of American troops as "invaders," the Syrian president did not rule out cooperation with President Donald Trump. 

"Their raids against ISIS ... happened without the cooperation or the consultation with the Syrian Army or the Syrian government which is illegal,” he said.

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported on Saturday that family members of IS fighters had fled the group's self-proclaimed Syrian capital of Raqa on Friday and Saturday, as rival forces encircle the city.

The monitor, said "300 families of foreign fighters of IS have left the city of Raqa since dawn Friday to take refuge in the province of Deir Ezzor to the east and Hama to the west".

The northern city of Raqa is the target of advancing Turkish-backed Syrian rebels, a US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab forces as well as Syrian government troops supported by Russia.

The Observatory's head, Rami Abdel Rahman, said that IS families were using the only remaining escape route, on boats across the Euphrates River to the south.