SHAFAQNA – A triple bombing killed at least 50 people in a predominantly Shiite suburb south of the Syrian capital on Sunday even as a UN mediator held his first meeting with members of the main opposition group that seeks progress on humanitarian issues before it will join formal talks on ending the five-year civil war.
The attacks were claimed by militants from Daesh, and Syria’s delegate to the UN-sponsored peace talks said the violence confirmed the connection between “terrorism” and “some political groups” — a reference to those who oppose President Bashar Assad.
The blasts went off in the Damascus suburb of Lady Zaynab, about 600 metres from one of the holiest shrines for Shiite Muslims. Syria’s state news agency SANA said the attackers detonated a car bomb at a bus stop and that two suicide bombers then set off more explosives as rescuers rushed to the area.
State TV showed several burning cars and a scorched bus, as well as blown out windows, twisted metal and large holes in the facade of a nearby apartment building. The golden-domed Shiite shrine itself was not damaged.
At least 50 people were killed, the Syrian Foreign Ministry said, with more than 100 wounded.
The suburb is one of the first areas where Lebanon’s Hezbollah group sent fighters in 2012 to protect it from Sunni extremists who vowed to blow up the shrine. Hezbollah and Shiite groups from Iraq are known to have fighters in the area.
A website affiliated with Daesh said the attacks were carried out by members of the Sunni Muslim extremist group, which controls large areas in both Syria and Iraq.
The bombings cast a shadow over the Geneva talks, the first UN effort since 2014 to try to end the conflict that has killed at least 250,000 people, forced millions to flee the country, and given an opening to IS militants to capture territory.
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry appealed to both sides “to make the most of this moment, to seize the opportunity for serious negotiations, to negotiate in good faith with the goal of making concrete measurable progress in the days immediately ahead.”
“Now, while battlefield dynamics can affect negotiating leverage, in the end there is no military solution to this conflict,” Kerry said. “Without negotiations, the bloodshed will drag on until the last city is reduced to rubble and virtually every home, every form of infrastructure, and every semblance of civilization is destroyed.”
The talks got off to a rocky start Friday when U.N. special envoy Staffan de Mistura met only with a Syrian government delegation. The main opposition group, the Saudi-backed Higher Negotiations Committee or HNC, boycotted the session, saying it won’t take part until preliminary demands are met: the release of detainees, the end of the bombardment of civilians by Russian and Syrian forces, and the lifting of government blockades on rebel-held areas.
On Sunday, de Mistura paid an informal visit to the HNC delegation, saying he is “optimistic and determined” about the talks.