DAMASCUS, Syria, Jan. 31 (UPI) — The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for an attack in Syria on Sunday that killed at least 45 people near the Sayyida Zeinab Shia shrine in a southern suburb of Damascus.
The attacks occurred as delegates from the Syrian government and Syrian rebel groups meet in Geneva for this week’s tentative peace negotiations led by the United Nations. At least two suicide attacks occurred near the shrine.
“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 Islamic State said in a statement.
The highly-revered shrine contains the grave of one of the Prophet Muhammad’s granddaughters and continues to draw many pilgrims, despite Syria’s tumultuous civil war.
Syria has been blighted by a complex civil war in which the Islamic State, the Syrian government and multiple Syrian rebel groups fight for control of territory. The nearly five-year-long war has killed more than 250,000 people and led to a massive exodus as more than 11 million have fled their homes.
Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday urged a peaceful resolution to the war, calling on the warring government and rebel groups to act in the “best interests of their country.”
“Syria today is an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe, unmatched since World War II. This morning, in light of what is at stake at Syria talks, I appeal to both sides to negotiate seriously, in good faith,” Kerry said in an address. “While battlefield dynamics can affect negotiating leverage, there is no military solution to this conflict. We call upon parties in Geneva to take the first urgent steps and not to miss the chance this moment presents.”
In his address, Kerry referenced the Sayyida Zeinab shrine, where at least four people died in an attack in February last year.
“This imperative was underlined yet again this morning, when terrorist bombers attacked a shrine, killing dozens, in Damascus,” Kerry added. “People of Syria deserve a choice about the kind of future they want. Not a choice between repression and terrorists.”