Beirut: Fifteen people were killed and more than 30 were wounded in a suicide bomb attack at a bus station in a suburb west of Damascus, state media said on Tuesday.
State television said all fatalities were civilians but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based anti-Bashar Al Assad monitoring group, said six of the dead were soldiers and that two children were also killed at the bus stop in Soumariya, a major hub for transport in and out of the capital.
“The number is likely to rise because there are about 25 wounded, some of them in critical condition,” the Observatory said in an email.
Suicide attacks are a common tactic by insurgents fighting to overthrow Al Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for more forty years.
Meanwhile, long-delayed Syria peace talks due in January will take place without the presence of Al Assad or radical opposition groups, France’s foreign minister said on Tuesday.
“The purpose of Geneva II is not to have an armchair discussion about Syria, it’s to have mutual agreement between regime representatives - without Al Assad - and the moderate opposition in order to form a transitional government,” Laurent Fabius told French radio.
“It’s very difficult, but it’s the only solution that allows us at once not to have Mr Bashar Al Assad and not to have the terrorists,” he said, referring to the Islamic extremist members of Syria’s fractured opposition.
Fabius spoke a day after the United States and Russia threw their weight behind the long-delayed Syria peace talks, dubbed Geneva II, which the United Nations said would finally be held on January 22.
International Syria mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said a list of participants has not yet been drawn up for the negotiations, which will bring the Syrian government and opposition to the negotiating table for the first time since the uprising against Al Assad erupted in March 2011.
Foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said France wanted both the regime and the moderate opposition to send just one delegation each for the talks.
“The National Coalition should be at the heart of the opposition delegation and lead it,” he said, adding that the transitional government should be the only institution with “legitimacy and legality”.
“When it is set up, Bashar Al Assad should have no role,” Nadal said.
The Syrian regime’s crackdown on what started out as peaceful protests led to a spiral of violence and full-out civil war that has killed more than 120,000 people, according to activists, and displaced several million people.
The conflict has sucked in regional powers and exacerbated festering sectarian hostilities within the Islamic world, with Sunni Saudi Arabia supporting the rebels and Shiite Iran backing Al Assad’s regime.