Intense fighting follows suicide attack in Damascus suburb

Opposition fighters prepare homemade bombs in a street of the Salaheddin district of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on October 9, 2013. (Photo: AFP - Tarek Abu al-Fahem)

Published Saturday, October 19, 2013

A suicide car bombing outside a suburb of Damascus and fighting that followed killed and injured an undetermined number of people Saturday, as the UN-Arab League envoy began a regional push for peace talks.

State media said the early-morning blast at the entrance to the mixed Christian-Druze suburb of Jaramana critically injured up to 15 people.

Heavy fighting followed, with rebel mortar fire hitting the suburb, state media and opposition sources said.

One resident said the intensity of fighting was "unprecedented" since the conflict erupted in March 2011.

"It is very violent; we can hear automatic weapons fire, mortar rounds, bombardments," he told AFP by telephone.

The fighting comes as UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi was to arrive in Cairo at the start of a regional tour aimed at paving the way for peace talks.

World powers hope to convene a peace conference in Geneva next month but prospects for it remain unclear, with Syria's opposition divided and due to vote next week on whether to take part.

In Geneva, spokeswoman Khawla Mattar said Brahimi would meet Egypt's foreign minister as well as the head of the Arab League.

Brahimi is also expected in Syria and in Damascus ally Iran.

Separately, US Secretary of State John Kerry will head to Europe next week for talks on Syria. He and other envoys from the so-called "Friends of Syria" group will meet the Syrian opposition in Britain Tuesday to review progress towards convening the conference.

The National Coalition, Syria's main opposition bloc, has said it would hold internal discussions next week to decide whether to do so.

The Syrian National Council, a key member of the Coalition, has already said it opposes the talks and threatened to quit if the umbrella group takes part.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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