UN accuses both the government and rebels of preventing aid delivery to besieged towns.
A double bomb attack near a Muslim shrine in a suburb of Syria’s capital Damascus has killed at least 12 people, according to state media, in the latest in repeated deadly strikes on the site.
The official SANA news agency said on Saturday that a suicide bomber and a car bomb struck at the entrance to the Sayeda Zeinab district housing the shrine, which is revered by Shia Muslims around the world.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group claimed responsibility for the attacks via an online post.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a British-based monitoring group, reported a higher toll of at least 20 people killed and 30 wounded.
The shrine, about 10km south of the centre of Damascus, is heavily guarded by pro-government forces but has still been the target of several attacks, including those claimed by ISIL.
It contains the grave of Zeinab, a venerated granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad, and is notable for its glistening golden dome.
|Syrian army members inspect a damaged roof near Sayeda Zeinab mosque after the attack [Reuters]|
Syria’s official Al Ikhbariya channel showed images from the scene of burned-out cars billowing with plumes of black smoke.
Firefighters battled to extinguish the flames as shop signs lay in the street.
Alaa Ebrahim, a journalist who visited the scene on Saturday, told Al Jazeera via Skype that having seen the extent of the damage, he expected the death toll to rise.
The last attack on Sayeda Zeinab on April 25 killed at least seven and wounded dozens.
In response to the bombings, “there could be an escalation in attacks in areas controlled by rebels”, Ebrahim said, adding that most Damascus residents were supportive of the Syrian government.
“These [government-led military] operations are not viewed through the same eyes here as by those who are abroad.”
A string of ISIL bombings near the shrine in February left 134 people dead, most of them civilians, according to the SOHR. And in January, another attack claimed by ISIL killed 70 people.
Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia group, cited the threat to Sayeda Zeinab as a principal reason for sending its fighters to Syria on the side of President Bashar al-Assad.
The Sayeda Zeinab attack near Damascus came a day after US-backed Arab-Kurdish fighters reportedly encircled a stronghold of ISIL fighters in northern Syria, cutting off a major supply route of the fighters.
ISIL lost control of a vital supply artery when the troops completely surrounded the town of Manbij, at the heart of the last stretch of territory along Turkey’s border still under ISIL control.
ISIL has come under growing pressure on various fronts in Syria and Iraq, where it established its self-declared “caliphate” in 2014.
SOHR director Rami Abdel Rahman said tens of thousands of civilians were trapped inside the town and unable to leave as all the routes out were cut.
“Bakeries in the town haven’t been open since Friday, and food is beginning to become rare,” he said.