Death toll up to 70 from ISIS Damascus attack: Monitor

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Blasts Kill Dozens Near Damascus as Syrian Peace Talks Continue

BEIRUT (Reuters) -- The death toll from a suicide attack in Damascus on Sunday that was claimed by the Islamic State militant group has risen to more than 70, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

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A car bomb and two suicide bombers attacked the Sayeda Zeinab district, home to Syria's holiest Shi'ite shrine, as representatives of Syria's government and its divided opposition began convening in Geneva in an attempt to start the first peace talks in two years.

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Islamic State ISIS Damascus bombing kills 60
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Death toll up to 70 from ISIS Damascus attack: Monitor
In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrians gather where three bombs exploded in Sayyda Zeinab, a predominantly Shiite Muslim suburb of the Syrian capital, Syria, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016. The triple bombing claimed by the extremist Islamic State group killed at least 45 people near the Syrian capital of Damascus on Sunday, overshadowing an already shaky start to what are meant to be indirect Syria peace talks. (SANA via AP)
In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrians gather where three bombs exploded in Sayyda Zeinab, a predominantly Shiite Muslim suburb of the Syrian capital, Syria, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016. The triple bombing claimed by the extremist Islamic State group killed at least 45 people near the Syrian capital of Damascus on Sunday, overshadowing an already shaky start to what are meant to be indirect Syria peace talks. (SANA via AP)
In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, smoke rises after three bombs exploded in Sayyda Zeinab, a predominantly Shiite Muslim suburb of the Syrian capital, Syria, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016. The triple bombing claimed by the extremist Islamic State group killed at least 45 people near the Syrian capital of Damascus on Sunday, overshadowing an already shaky start to what are meant to be indirect Syria peace talks. (SANA via AP)
In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrians gather where three bombs exploded in Sayyda Zeinab, a predominantly Shiite Muslim suburb of the Syrian capital, Syria, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016. The triple bombing claimed by the extremist Islamic State group killed at least 45 people near the Syrian capital of Damascus on Sunday, overshadowing an already shaky start to what are meant to be indirect Syria peace talks. (SANA via AP)
In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrians gather where three bombs exploded in Sayyda Zeinab, a predominantly Shiite Muslim suburb of the Syrian capital, Syria, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016. The triple bombing claimed by the extremist Islamic State group killed at least 45 people near the Syrian capital of Damascus on Sunday, overshadowing an already shaky start to what are meant to be indirect Syria peace talks. (SANA via AP)
The cover of a Koran, Islam's holy book, is seen in the wreckage of a car following suicide bombings in the area of a revered Shiite shrine in the town of Sayyida Zeinab, on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on January 31, 2016. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the bombings that killed at least 45 people. / AFP / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian pro-government forces inspect the damage following suicide bombings in the area of a revered Shiite shrine in the town of Sayyida Zeinab, on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on January 31, 2016. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the bombings that killed at least 45 people. / AFP / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian pro-government forces inspect the damage following suicide bombings in the area of a revered Shiite shrine in the town of Sayyida Zeinab, on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on January 31, 2016. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the bombings that killed at least 45 people. / AFP / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian pro-government forces inspect the damage following suicide bombings in the area of a revered Shiite shrine in the town of Sayyida Zeinab, on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on January 31, 2016. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the bombings that killed at least 45 people. / AFP / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrians inspect the damage following suicide bombings in the area of a revered Shiite shrine in the town of Sayyida Zeinab, on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on January 31, 2016. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the bombings that killed at least 45 people. / AFP / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
A Syrian woman walks past the wreckage of a vehicle at the site of suicide bombings in the area of a revered Shiite shrine in the town of Sayyida Zeinab, on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on January 31, 2016. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the bombings that killed at least 45 people. / AFP / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
A member of the Syrian pro-government forces inspects the damage following suicide bombings in the area of a revered Shiite shrine in the town of Sayyida Zeinab, on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on January 31, 2016. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the bombings that killed at least 45 people. / AFP / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian pro-government forces inspect the damage following suicide bombings in the area of a revered Shiite shrine in the town of Sayyida Zeinab, on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on January 31, 2016. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the bombings that killed at least 45 people. / AFP / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian pro-government forces and residents gather at the site of suicide bombings in the area of a revered Shiite shrine in the town of Sayyida Zeinab, on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on January 31, 2016. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the bombings that killed at least 45 people. / AFP / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian pro-government forces gather at the site of suicide bombings in the area of a revered Shiite shrine in the town of Sayyida Zeinab, on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on January 31, 2016. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the bombings that killed at least 45 people. / AFP / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrians look at the wreckage of a vehicle at the site of suicide bombings in the area of a revered Shiite shrine in the town of Sayyida Zeinab, on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on January 31, 2016. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the bombings that killed at least 45 people. / AFP / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian pro-government forces sit at the site of suicide bombings in the area of a revered Shiite shrine in the town of Sayyida Zeinab, on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on January 31, 2016. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the bombings that killed at least 45 people. / AFP / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
The wreckage of a vehicle is being loaded on a truck as Syrian pro-government forces and residents gather at the site of suicide bombings in the area of a revered Shiite shrine in the town of Sayyida Zeinab, on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on January 31, 2016. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the bombings that killed at least 45 people. / AFP / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrians stand in front of the wreckage of vehicles at the site of suicide bombings in the area of a revered Shiite shrine in the town of Sayyida Zeinab, on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on January 31, 2016. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the bombings that killed at least 45 people. / AFP / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian pro-government forces and residents gather at the site of suicide bombings in the area of a revered Shiite shrine in the town of Sayyida Zeinab, on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on January 31, 2016. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the bombings that killed at least 45 people. / AFP / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian pro-government forces and residents gather at the site of suicide bombings in the area of a revered Shiite shrine in the town of Sayyida Zeinab, on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on January 31, 2016. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the bombings that killed at least 45 people. / AFP / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
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The Syrian state news agency SANA has put the death toll from the attack at more than 50.

The British-based Observatory, which monitors the war using contacts on the ground, said the attack had targeted a military bus carrying Shi'ite militiamen who were changing guard, and that 42 of the dead were fighters allied to the government.

The Lebanese Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah and other Iraqi and Iranian militias have a strong presence in Sayeda Zeinab, which is a site of pilgrimage for Shi'ites from Iran, Lebanon and other parts of the Muslim world.

While much of the Syrian leadership is drawn from an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, Islamic State espouses a radical version of Sunni Islam and considers other sects to be heretical.

The area witnessed heavy clashes in the first few years of the war, prompting the army and allied Shi'ite militias to tighten security, notably with roadblocks.

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