The Latest: Iraq FM: 40 Iraqis killed in Damascus blasts

AP News
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Posted: Mar 11, 2017 11:17 AM
The Latest: Iraq FM: 40 Iraqis killed in Damascus blasts

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on developments in Syria (all times local):

2:30 p.m.

Iraq's Foreign Ministry says most of the more than 40 people killed in the twin blasts in the Syrian capital Damascus were Iraqis visiting the Shiite shrines in the area.

The twin blasts Saturday hit outside Bab al-Saghir cemetery, one of the most ancient in the Syrian capital and which houses revered Shiite religious figures. The Syrian interior minister says 40 were killed and 120 were wounded. Opposition activists group say at least 46 were killed.

Ahmed Jamal, Iraq's foreign ministry spokesman, says in a statement initial reports suggest 40 killed were Iraqis. He says a crisis cell was formed in coordination with Syrian authorities to determine the identities of those killed and wounded and to transfer them to Iraq. The statement condemned the attacks.

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1 p.m.

Arab media are reporting at least 40 people are dead after twin blasts in a Damascus neighborhood that is home to tombs of religious figures frequented by Shiite pilgrims.

There were conflicting reports on what caused the explosions.

State news agency SANA says the twin explosions hit near Bab al-Saghir cemetery, one of the capital's most ancient, and where several prominent religious figures are buried. It says several were killed and the cemetery was damaged.

Lebanon's al-Manar TV quoted Syrian officials as saying 40 were killed following twin suicide attacks. Arab TV Al-Mayadeen also reported at least 40 were killed while the area was under tight security.

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12:50 p.m.

Syria's President Bashar Assad tells a Chinese TV station that his military's priority is to reach the Islamic State group's de-facto capital of Raqqa — toward which U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces are also advancing.

The interview with Hong-Kong based Phoenix TV aired Saturday, Assad says another IS stronghold, Deir el-Zour, can be targeted in parallel.

Assad says "in theory" he shares the same priority with U.S. President Donald Trump of fighting terrorism, but that they have had no formal contact yet. He says Russia, a major ally, hopes it can bring the U.S. and Turkey into cooperating with Moscow and Damascus in the fight against terrorism in Syria. Assad's government views all armed opposition as terrorist groups.

Assad says all foreign troops on Syrian soil without invitation or consultation with the Syrian government are considered "invaders."