At least 45 people have been killed and scores wounded following three blasts near a Shia shrine in the Syrian capital Damascus. The explosions occurred close to the shrine of Sayyida Zeinab, which is highly revered by Shia Muslims and has previously been attacked by Sunni extremists.
At least two of the blasts were carried out by suicide bombers according to Reuters, while the third blast is believed to be a car bomb. State television showed destroyed and burning buildings, with wrecked cars in the area around the shrine, revealing the force of the blasts.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement released shortly after triple blasts. Although the terror groups do not control territory near the Syrian capital, their fighters have been able to carry out several attacks there over the past year.
Speaking from the scene, BBC News' Rami Ruhayem said: "The destruction is huge. The building in front of me on Koua Soudan Street is charred black in the middle. I'm told that there is a military headquarters on the ground floor and families also lived in the five-storey building.
"There is a fruit stall with blackened oranges all over the floor... I can also see a large number of charred vehicles, including a bus in the middle of the street which is almost completely destroyed and overturned. The smoke is still rising from one of the cars on the side of the street," he added.
The shrine houses the grave of the daughter of Ali ibn Abi Taleb, the cousin of Prophet Mohammed and the man Shias believe should have directly succeeded the prophet as the leader of the world's Muslims. The split between Shia and Sunni dates from this period, which is why the shrine is at the forefront of the sectarian violence in Syria.
The area around the shrine was at the centre of fighting in the early days of the Syrian civil war in 2011 but regime troops and Shia militias led by Hezbollah have since secured the site. Shia fighters from all over the Middle East claim they have joined the conflict in Syria to protect the shrine. But Sunni militants have still managed to carry out several bombing attacks at the Shrine - the most recent in early 2015.
The attack comes as Syrian regime diplomats and delegates from various rebel forces gathered in Geneva, Switzerland to UN-sponsored peace talks. The main rebel group initially threatened to boycott the meeting but backed down on the threat at the last minute, although they did say the Syrian regime must meet key demands before talks can begin.