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Syria's civil war: Sayeda Zeinab in Damascus targeted

ISIL claims responsibility for double bombings in Sayeda Zeinab near Syrian capital that killed at least 12 people.

Shia shrine

Syria Fighting: Quick Facts
  • Twin explosions kill at least 12 people near holy Shia site in Damascus
  • ISIL claims responsibility for attack
  • Blasts mark third time Sayeda Zeinab shrine has been targeted
  • Lebanon's Hezbollah has said threat to shrine is principal reason it intervened in war
  • Attack comes as Arab-Kurdish forces cut off major ISIL supply route

A double bomb attack outside a Shia shrine near Syria's capital Damascus has killed at least 12 people, according to state media, in the latest in repeated deadly strikes on the site.

The official SANA news agency said on Saturday that a suicide bomber and a car bomb struck at the entrance to the Sayeda Zeinab shrine, which is revered by Shias around the world.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed responsibility for the attacks via an online post.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a British-based monitoring group, reported a higher toll of at least 20 people killed and 30 wounded.

The shrine, about 10km south of the centre of Damascus, is heavily guarded by pro-government forces but has still been the target of several attacks, including those claimed by ISIL.

It contains the grave of Zeinab, a venerated granddaughter of Prophet Muhammad, and is notable for its glistening, golden dome.

READ MORE: Syria faces fierce criticism over Daraya bombing

Syria's official Al Ikhbariya channel showed images from the scene of burned-out cars billowing with plumes of black smoke.

Firefighters battled to extinguish the flames as shop signs lay in the street.

"This is not the first, not the second, but the third attack to target the same point," Alaa Ebrahim, a journalist who visited the scene on Saturday, said from Damascus via Skype.

Having seen the extent of the damage, Ebrahim said he expected the death toll to rise.
The last attack on Sayeda Zeinab on April 25 killed at least seven and wounded dozens.

In response to the bombings, "there could be an escalation in attacks in areas controlled by rebels", Ebrahim said, adding that most Damascus residents were supportive of the Syrian government.

"These [government-led military] operations are not viewed through the same eyes here as by those who are abroad."

A string of ISIL bombings near the shrine in February left 134 people dead, most of them civilians, according to the SOHR. And in January, another attack claimed by ISIL killed 70 people.

Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia group, cited the threat to Sayeda Zeinab as a principal reason for sending its fighters to Syria on the side of President Bashar al-Assad.

ISIL route blocked

The Sayeda Zeinab attack near Damascus came a day after US-backed Arab-Kurdish fighters reportedly encircled a stronghold of ISIL fighters in northern Syria, cutting off a major supply route of the fighters.

ISIL lost control of a vital supply artery when the troops completely surrounded the town of Manbij, at the heart of the last stretch of territory along Turkey's border still under ISIL control.

ISIL has come under growing pressure on various fronts in Syria and Iraq, where it established its self-declared "caliphate" in 2014.

"The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) cut off the last road from Manbij to the Turkish border," the SOHR said.

Brett McGurk, US envoy to the anti-ISIL coalition backing the SDF, said the move had severed an important route for ISIL (also known as ISIS) fighters looking to attack Europe.

"ISIL terrorists now completely surrounded with no way out," he wrote on Twitter.

"Manbij is where we believe the Paris attackers, the Brussels attackers, they all kind of pulsed through this area," McGurk said.

"From Raqqa up to Manbij and then out to the capitals where they had organised their attack."

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