Mortar shells strike near inspectors' hotel in Syria

BEIRUT — Two mortar shells hit Syria's capital Saturday near a hotel where international chemical weapons inspectors and United Nations 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 8-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.

The blasts struck about 300 meters (1,000 feet) away from the Four Seasons Hotel where the chemical weapons inspectors and U.N. staff are staying. A U.N. 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 11:15 a.m., 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 President Bashar Assad. Last week, a similar attack reportedly killed eight people.

Inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and U.N. staff have been in Syria for the past two weeks to destroy the country's chemical weapons.

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

Another mortar attack Saturday in the regime-held Damascus suburb of Jaramana left two people dead and several others wounded, according to the Observatory. SANA said the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent evacuated nearly 2,000 women and children Saturday from the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Moadamiyeh, where people have complained about lack of food.

Mortar shells strike near inspectors' hotel in Syria 10/12/13 [Last modified: Saturday, October 12, 2013 10:48pm]

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