On Sunday, at least 45 people were killed and dozens wounded in a double suicide bombing near a Shiite shrine south of Damascus, state media reported. ISIS-affiliated social media accounts circulated a statement from the group taking responsibility, the Guardian reports.
“Two soldiers of the caliphate carried out martyrdom operations in a den of the infidels in the Sayyida Zeinab area, killing nearly 50 and injuring around 120,” the statement read.
According to the New York Times, Hezbollah and other Shiite militias allied with the Syrian government control the area targeted by the bombing. (The Sayyida Zeinab shrine is used as a recruitment tool.) Syrians displaced from the country’s north have also been housed in the area.
Meanwhile, peace talks between the government and the opposition bloc have opened in Geneva. From the Guardian:
Staffan de Mistura, the UN envoy for Syria, paid a “courtesy call” to opposition negotiators on Sunday, who insisted they will not enter into negotiations of any kind until the implementation of a UN security council resolution demanding that all parties allow aid access, release detainees, end sieges and stop targeting civilian areas.
De Mistura is to meet each delegation separately on Monday for what the UN calls “proximity talks” and then shuttle between them, since there is not enough common ground between them to meet without immediate collapse. Last time talks were held in Geneva, two years ago, the Syrian parties exchanged insults and the negotiations broke up without result. It will clearly be a difficult process.
“While battlefield dynamics can affect negotiating leverage, in the end there is no military solution to this conflict,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a video statement, streamed from Washington, D.C.
“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,” he said. “And that will ensure an increased number of terrorists created by, and attracted to, this fight. This conflict could easily engulf the region if left to spiral completely out of control.”
De Mistura, the U.N. envoy and mediator, plans six months of talks, the Guardian reports. In the past five years, more than 250,000 Syrians have been killed and more than 10 million displaced.