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Shrine damaged in Syria blast

(AFP) / 15 June 2012

damascus — A suicide bomber blew up a vehicle near a revered shrine in the Syrian capital on Thursday, wounding 14 people and damaging the shrine, state media and witnesses said.

Official news agency Sana said the vehicle exploded in a garage 50 metres from Sayyida Zeinab shrine. There was “substantial damage in the area of the blast” and “the terrorist who carried out the operation was killed”, it said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, citing anti-government activists, said the bomb went off near security offices, damaging the apparent target as well as the shrine, as seen in a video posted on the Internet.

A witness said a van drove at speed into the parking lot at 6am and exploded among parked vehicles, including pilgrim buses. The vehicles and a nearby police station were damaged, a photographer at the site said.

The windows of the mausoleum were shattered and its air vents ripped out by the force of the blast, which left a three-metre crater. Tiles on the minarets were damaged.

Also early on Thursday, a car bomb in Idlib city in northwest Syria targeted a military checkpoint, the Syrian Observatory said, adding that an unknown number of soldiers were killed or wounded. At least 22 people were killed in the latest violence across the country, it said.

International observers, meanwhile, visited Al Haffe town in the Mediterranean province of Latakia, a day after Syrian authorities said the area had been cleansed of rebel fighters, a UN spokeswoman in Damascus said.

Rebels withdrew on Wednesday from the besieged town and nearby villages that had been under intense shelling by Syrian forces for eight days, according to the Observatory.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International accused Syria of committing crimes against humanity to punish communities supporting rebels.

The London-based group called for an international response after claiming it had fresh evidence that victims, including children, had been dragged from their homes and shot dead by soldiers, who in some cases then set the remains on fire.

“This disturbing new evidence of an organised pattern of grave abuses highlights the pressing need for decisive international action,” said Amnesty’s Donatella Rovera on the release of the 70-page report entitled Deadly Reprisals.

The advocacy group interviewed people in 23 towns and villages across Syria and concluded that government forces and militias were guilty of “grave human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law amounting to crimes against humanity and war crimes”.

The allegations came as the Syrian Observatory reported that more than 14,400 people have been killed in Syria in the revolt against Assad’s government, including 2,302 in the past month alone.

The Observatory said eight people, including three opposition fighters, were killed in some of Thursday’s worst violence during clashes between troops and rebels in and around the central city of Homs.

Troops bombarded the rebel-held town of Rastan in Homs province “using helicopters and mortars, killing and wounding a large number of rebel fighters”, the watchdog reported.

In the southern city of Daraa, five people were killed in the Tareek Al Sad district, which was heavily shelled, the Britain-based Observatory said. Six people were killed in the central province of Hama.

Opposition sources said anti-Assad groups are to meet in Istanbul on Friday and Saturday in a bid to settle their differences and close ranks. — AFP

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