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Mortar shell hits Vatican embassy in Damascus

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ALBERT AJI | November 5, 2013 08:37 AM EST | AP


DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — A mortar shell slammed into a Damascus building that houses the Vatican's embassy on Tuesday, eyewitnesses said, in what was the latest of a string of assaults on foreign diplomatic missions in the Syrian capital.

It was not clear if the diplomatic mission near the upscale Abu Roummaneh district was specifically targeted in the early morning attack, which damaged the roof. No casualties were reported and no one claimed responsibility for the attack.

Rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad have frequently fired mortars into the capital, where the government tries to portray life as normal despite the country's civil war raging well into its third year.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi told reporters that the pope has been informed of the shelling, which Lombardi said occurred at around 6:30 a.m. local time and left no casualties.

"Given the hour, there was only material damages, not to people," Lombardi said. "Had it been later it would have been much more dangerous. Thanks to God no one was hurt," he said.

In September, a mortar round hit the Iraqi embassy, killing four people. Similar shelling took place at the diplomatic missions of China and Russia earlier the year but left no casualties.

Moscow and Beijing have supported Assad in the conflict, which started in 2011 as largely peaceful uprising against his rule but deteriorated into a civil war pitting mostly Sunni Muslim rebels against Assad, whose Alawite sect stems from Shiite Islam.

The rebels are backed by the United States and its European and Persian Gulf allies, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

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Associated Press writer Daniela Petroff at the Vatican City contributed to this report.