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Damascus blasts kill 8 as Syria peace talks languish

DAMASCUS Eight people were killed and about 30 more wounded Wednesday in an explosion in downtown Damascus, as fresh mortar attacks killed three other people in the heart of the capital.

Syrian officials said the explosion in the Hijaz neighborhood killed the eight victims instantly.

They did not say whether it was a suicide blast or one of the now-routine mortar attacks which indiscriminately slam into crowded areas around the sprawling capital city.

Ambulances rushed to Hijaz, near to the Interior Ministry to collect the wounded.

Earlier in the day, numerous mortars landed in Damascus, one in Zahara'a district injured four elementary school children, according to government officials.

Sources said at least three people were killed in the mortar attacks, which also caused significant property damage.

Vatican Embassy in Damascus hit with mortar fire

On Tuesday, a mortar round slammed into a building housing the Vatican's embassy in Damascus, but no injuries were reported, witnesses and a spokesman said.

Other foreign diplomatic missions have been struck in the nearly 3-year-old civil war pitting President Bashar Assad's government against rebels fighting to oust him. But it was unclear if the Vatican's mission was the target on Tuesday. Opposition fighters frequently fire mortar shells into the capital to undermine the government's efforts to maintain a semblance of normalcy in its stronghold.

Nobody claimed responsibility for the blast, which occurred near the upscale Abu Roummaneh district and damaged the roof. Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, told reporters that the pre-dawn attack caused no casualties and the pope had been informed about it.

Meanwhile, the international effort to get both sides of the conflict to the negotiating table to find a political solution to the crisis hit yet another stumbling block Tuesday, as diplomats failed to agree on a date for a long-anticipated peace summit in Geneva.

The world powers strongly disagreed over what diplomatic steps to take to resolve the fighting and what any future Syrian leadership beyond President Assad's government should look like.

Assad's government signaled it was not ready to negotiate handing over power, while his main ally Russia insisted, once again, that pro-Assad Iran must be part of any talks on a war whose death count officially surpassed 100,000 more than three months ago.

The U.N.-Arab League's top envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, told reporters at a news conference in Geneva that the failure did not mean all hopes for a peace conference on Syria were dashed.

"(We) are still striving to see if we can have the conference before the end of the year," he said.

The diplomatic talks among world powers in Geneva at the U.N.'s elegant Palais des Nations contrasted sharply with the heavy shelling and missile attacks being waged in a civil war that both sides still believe they might win militarily.