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Blasts In Damascus Kill At Least 45; Islamic State Claims Responsibility

Syrian pro-government forces and residents gather at the site of suicide bombings in the area of a revered Shiite shrine on the outskirts of Damascus, on Sunday. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for bombings that killed at least 45 people.

Three explosions near a shrine revered by Shiite Muslims in Damascus have killed at least 45 people, according to reports from Syrian media and human rights monitors.

NPR's Alison Meuse, reporting from Beirut for our Newscast unit, says the Islamic State has claimed responsibility through its media outlets. She continues:

"State media say the first blast was caused by a car bomb at a local bus station. Then, as people rushed to help the wounded, two suicide bombers with explosive belts detonated themselves in the crowd. Photos and videos posted online by activists show burned out cars and plumes of smoke rising into the sky. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 100 people are wounded.

"The area targeted, Sayyida Zeinab, is home to one of the holiest shrines in Islam, but which is especially revered by Shiite Muslims. Shiite militant groups allied with Bashar al-Assad's forces often use the defense of the shrine as a rallying cry for recruits."

The explosions came two days after Syrian peace talks in Geneva began. The talks — which involve the Syrian government and some opposition groups meeting with the U.N., but not directly with each other — had a rocky start, with opposition groups initially refusing to attend and many involved in the conflict feeling alienated by the U.N.'s announcement of the talk's beginning.

The opposition delegates have agreed to meet with the U.N. mediator but say they won't negotiate until they've seen evidence of good faith from the Syrian government — like the lifting of sieges and an end to bombings of rebel-held areas, The Associated Press reports.

The Islamic State is not included in the peace talks.

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