Blasts close to Damascus' main Shi'ite shrine kill 30

BEIRUT: At least thirty people were killed and scores wounded on Sunday when two suicide bombers blew them themselves up in the Sayeda Zeinab district of Damascus, where Syria's holiest Shi'ite shrine is located, the interior ministry said.

State television footage of burning buildings and wrecked cars in the neighbourhood. It gave no further details.

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

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

The United Nations has said the aim would be 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.

The Damascus area witnessed heavy clashes in the first few years of the conflict, which began in 2011, but has since been secured by the Syrian army and Shi'ite militias led by Hezbollah, which has set up protective roadblocks around it.

The shrine houses the grave of the daughter of Ali ibn Abi Taleb, the cousin of Prophet Mohammed whom Shi'ites consider the rightful successor to the prophet. The dispute over the succession led to the major Sunni-Shi'ite schism in Islam.

Many Iraqi and Iranian Shi'ite 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.