Death toll from Damascus bombing climbs to 74

Around 40 Iraqis dead in Damascus bombings

The death toll from twin bombings on a religious shrine in the capital Damascus has risen to 74, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Among the victims of Saturday's blasts were 43 Iraqi pilgrims who had come to Damascus to visit Shiite shrines in Damascus's famed Old City.

In a statement, the group said the attack targeted "Iranian militias" and pro-government defense militias in revenge for what it said was Iran's role in supporting President Bashar al Assad's "tyrannical rule", holding them responsible for "killing and displacing" Syrians.

The Tahrir al Sham militant group, which was organized at the initiative of the Jabhat Fatah al Sham terror group (formerly known as al-Nusra Front), is said to have claimed responsibility for the attack.

The attack has left dozens of people injured and some of them are still in critical condition, the watchdog said.

Twin suicide bombings in the high-security Kafr Sousa district of the capital in January killed 10 people, eight of them soldiers.

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Fatah al-Sham is opposed to peace talks between the opposition and the government that have taken place recently in Geneva and the Kazakh capital of Astana.

United Nations envoy Staffan de Mistura has called a new round of talks for March 23. Iraq's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that at least 40 of those killed were Iraqi, as well as 120 more wounded. Extremist Sunni groups, such as IS, view Shiites as apostates and consider shrines a form of idolatry.

The Damascus attack could provide the impetus for increased Iraqi strikes against IS in Syria, which Baghdad has already carried out near the border. Its Iraqi stronghold of Mosul is now under attack from Iraqi government forces and their allies.

Saturday's attack also wounded over a hundred, majority Iraqis, according to Syrian and Iraqi officials.

The northern city of Raqa is the target of advancing Turkish-backed Syrian rebels, a US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab forces as well as Syrian government troops supported by Russian Federation.

In the interview with Hong-Kong based Phoenix TV broadcast on Saturday, Mr Assad said another IS stronghold, Deir el-Zour, could be targeted in parallel.

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