DAMASCUS — At least 45 people were killed and 110 wounded on Sunday in three bomb blasts near the revered Shiite shrine of Sayyida Zeinab outside the Syrian capital Damascus, state media said.
An IS-affiliated website said the blasts were carried out by members of the extremist group, which controls large areas in both Syria and Iraq.
State news agency SANA said the first blast was caused by a car bomb that detonated at a bus station near the shrine.
It said two suicide bombers then detonated their explosive belts when people gathered at the scene.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group that monitors both sides of the conflict through a network of activists inside Syria, said at least 47 people were killed in the explosions, and that the death toll was expected to rise because a number of people were seriously wounded.
An AFP photographer at the scene said the blasts caused massive damage, shattering windows and ripping a huge crater in the road.
Smoke rose from the twisted carcasses of more than a dozen cars and a bus damaged in the blasts, as ambulances ferried away the wounded and firefighters worked to put out blazes started by the bombings.
The shrine south of the capital contains the grave of a granddaughter of the Prophet Mohammed and is particularly revered as a pilgrimage site by Shiite Muslims.
It has continued to attract pilgrims from Syria and beyond, particularly Shiites from Iran, Lebanon, and Iraq, throughout the war, and has been targeted in previous bomb attacks.
In February 2015, two suicide attacks killed four people and wounded 13 at a checkpoint near the shrine.
Also that month, a blast ripped through a bus carrying Lebanese Shiite pilgrims headed to Sayyida Zeinab, killing at least nine people in an attack claimed by Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front.
The area around the shrine is heavily secured with regime checkpoints set up hundreds of metres away to prevent vehicles from getting close to Sayyida Zeinab.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, members of Lebanon’s powerful Shiite militant group Hezbollah are among those deployed at the checkpoints.
The Britain-based monitor said 47 people were killed in the blasts, including a car bomb that targeted a checkpoint, and included non-Syrian Shiite militants without specifying their nationalities.
Hezbollah is a staunch ally of Syria’s President Bashar Assad and has dispatched fighters to bolster his troops against the uprising that began in March 2011 with anti-government protests.
Early on, the group justified its intervention in Syria by citing the threat to Sayyida Zeinab.
More than 260,000 people have been killed in Syria’s conflict, which has also displaced over half the country’s population internally and abroad.
It has evolved into a complex, multi-front war, involving rebels, jihadists, regime and allied forces, Kurds and airstrikes by both government ally Russia and a US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group.