Mon, Oct 14, 2013 - Page 5 News List

Mortar shells strike near inspectors’ hotel in Syria

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE?The inspectors’ task is unprecedented due to the ambitious deadline and because they are working in the midst of an increasingly fractured civil war

AP, BEIRUT

Two mortar shells hit Syria’s capital on Saturday near a hotel where international chemical weapons inspectors and UN staff are staying, state media and a hotel guest said.

In the north, clashes between rival rebel factions left nearly 50 gunmen dead in three days of fighting for control of neighborhoods in the city of Aleppo, an activist group said.

An eight-year-old girl was killed and 11 people were hurt in the blasts in the upscale Abu Roumaneh area of Damascus, the SANA news agency said.

One shell fell near a school and the other on the roof of a building.

The girl was in her family car near the school when she was killed, said the Syrian Observatory for

Human Rights, a Britain-based activist group monitoring the fighting.

The blasts damaged several cars and shattered nearby windows.

One resident was seen sweeping debris on a sidewalk, near where twisted metal pieces from the wreckage had been heaped in a small pile.

The blasts struck some 300m away from the Four Seasons Hotel where the chemical weapons inspectors and UN staff are staying.

A UN employee staying there said it did not appear that the hotel was affected by the twin explosions.

The hotel remained open after the blasts, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

He said he heard the first

explosion at about 11:15am, followed by a second. Thick smoke rose from the area and ambulance sirens sounded shortly afterward.

Syrian rebels routinely fire mortar shells from the outskirts of Damascus at city neighborhoods controlled by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Last week, a similar attack reportedly killed eight people.

Inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and UN staff have been in Syria for the past two weeks to destroy the country’s chemical weapons stockpile.

The watchdog agency working to eliminate chemical weapons around the world won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday in a powerful endorsement of its Syria mission.

The OPCW inspectors have so far visited three sites linked to Syria’s chemical weapons program, though the agency has not provided details.

On Saturday, before the mortar attack, a convoy of UN cars left the Four Seasons, but its destination was not known.

The inspectors’ mission in Syria is unprecedented because of a tight timetable — they are to get the job done by the middle of next year — and because they are operating in the midst of a civil war.

They are to inspect more than 20 sites, some close to frontlines crisscrossing the country.

Earlier this week, Syrian warplanes twice bombed the rebel-held town of Safira, just a few kilometers from a large military complex believed to house an underground chemical weapons production facility.

Another mortar attack on Saturday in the regime-held Damascus suburb of Jaramana left two people dead and several others wounded, according to the Observatory.

SANA said that the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent evacuated on Saturday nearly 2,000 women and children from the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Moadamiyeh where people have complained about lack of food. SANA gave no further details.

The Syrian conflict erupted in March 2011 as a popular uprising against al-Assad that quickly escalated into civil war.

More than 100,000 people have been killed since then and millions of Syrians have been displaced.

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