Blasts Close to Damascus’ Main Shiite Shrine Kill 45

BEIRUT (Reuters) -

At least 45 people were killed and 110 wounded on Sunday when two suicide bombers blew them themselves up in the Sayeda Zeinab district of Damascus, where Syria’s foremost Shiite shrine is located, the interior ministry said.

State media footage showed burning buildings and wrecked cars in the neighborhood. It gave no further details.

The heavily populated area in the south of the city is a pilgrimage site for Shiites from Iran, Lebanon, and other parts of the Muslim world.

The Sayeda Zeinab shrine area witnessed heavy clashes during the first few years of the conflict, which began in 2011, but has since been secured by the Syrian army and Shiite militias led by Hizbullah, which has set up protective roadblocks around it.

Many of the Iraqi and Iranian Shiite militia groups who volunteer to fight Sunni Islamist radicals in Syria, in a conflict that has heavy sectarian overtones, say they are coming to Syria to defend the shrine.

The explosions occurred just as representatives of Syria’s government and its divided opposition began convening in Geneva for the first U.N.-mediated peace talks in two years.

The United Nations has said the goal is to conduct six months of talks, first seeking a ceasefire and later working toward a political settlement to a war that has killed more than 250,000 people, driven more than 10 million from their homes, and drawn in global powers.