x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

At least 10 killed in explosion in Damascus's Old City

An explosion hit the Old City of Damascus today as President Bashar Al Assad discussed the civil war in his country with visiting UN peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.

AMMAN // An explosion hit the Old City of Damascus today, killing at least 10 people and wounding dozens of other civilians, Syrian activists said, as President Bashar Al Assad discussed the civil war in his country with visiting UN peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.

The blast targeted a police station in the Bab Touma neighbourhood, a Syrian official said, on the condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to make press statements.

Bab Touma, a popular attraction for shoppers, is inhabited mostly by members of Syria's Christian minority.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the death toll. It said it was not immediately clear if the victims were civilians or policemen. But it described the blast as "strong" and said ambulances and police cars were rushing to the area.

No other details were immediately available.

Mr Brahimi, who represents the UN and the Arab League, met with Mr Al Assad in another part of the capital. Mr Brahimi has appealed for a truce between Assad forces and rebels for Eid Al Adha, which begins on October 26.

Mr Brahimi arrived in Damascus on Friday after a tour of Middle East capitals to drum up support for the ceasefire, which he hopes will pave the way for a long-term truce.

A range of countries including Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Germany have thrown their support behind the idea, but neither the Syrian government nor the rebels have signed on.

Mr Brahimi met Foreign Minister Walid Al Moallem yesterday. A Foreign Ministry statement released after the meeting did not mention the proposed truce, but said the two men discussed "objective and rational circumstances to stop the violence from any side to prepare for a comprehensive dialogue among the Syrians."

Syrian government forces and rebels have both agreed to and then promptly violated internationally brokered ceasefires in the past, and there is little indication that either is willing to stop fighting now.