Blast rocks central Baghdad as landmark Arab summit opens
A large blast rocked central Baghdad near the Iranian embassy on the outskirts of the Iraqi capital's heavily-fortified Green Zone as a landmark Arab summit opened Thursday.
The blast was heard at around 1:40pm local time and took place in the Salhiyeh neighborhood of central Baghdad.
As smoke billowed into the sky, security forces, military vehicles and firefighters were seen heading to the scene of the explosion.
The blast came despite strict security measures by the Iraqi government, which had 100,000 security forces members on alert in Baghdad, and effectively locked down the city, closing roads, shutting down air space and cutting mobile phone networks.
It came as the first Arab summit to be held in Iraq in 22 years opened in the former Republican Palace in Baghdad.
State TV showed the summit opening with a reading of verses from the Koran, after which opening speeches began.
Among those attending were nine Arab leaders, including Kuwait's emir, who was on the first visit to Iraq by a Kuwaiti head of state since the 1990 Iraqi invasion of that country. UN chief Ban Ki-moon was also in Baghdad for the summit.
While regional officials have pushed to focus on a wide variety of issues, ranging from the Arab-Israel conflict to jumpstarting the 22-member bloc's economies, the focus has been on Syria, where monitors say nearly 10,000 people have died in a year-long revolt against President Bashar al Assad's rule.
As the summit got underway, Syrian security forces assailed rebel strongholds across the country after the regime made it clear it would not abide by any Arab League initiatives.
Violence across Syria on Thursday killed at least 13 people, nearly all of them civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Three civilians died as regime forces stormed villages near the town of Maaret al Numan, in northwestern Idlib province, which has been under a relentless army assault since the start of the month.
Five other civilians, among them a woman, died in central Homs province and three died in nearby Hama province, where two soldiers were also killed when their vehicle came under attack by armed rebels, the Britain-based group added.
Clashes were also taking place near the town of Zabadani, in Damascus province.
New York Post