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The Mideast

Suicide blast in Christian neighborhood in Syria kills 4

A suicide attacker blew himself up near one of the main churches in the Syrian capital Thursday, killing at least four people, state-run TV said.

The blast struck in the vicinity of the Greek Orthodox Virgin Mary Church in the predominantly Christian neighborhood of Bab Sharqi in central Damascus, according to state TV. It said several people also were wounded in the explosion, but gave no further details.

A government official told The Associated Press that the suicide attacker was wearing an explosive belt and blew himself up near the church. Both the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, and state TV said at least four people were killed.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack in Damascus, which has been hit by a wave of suicide attacks that have killed and wounded scores of people.

Lebanon's Al-Mayadeen TV, which has reporters in Damascus, said the target of the attack appeared to be a nearby post of the National Defense Forces, a paramilitary force fighting against rebels trying to topple President Bashar Assad.

Churches have been targeted in the past, mostly in the central city of Homs and Syria's largest city of Aleppo in the north.

In April, two bishops were kidnapped in northern Syria. They are still missing.

Syria's conflict started with largely peaceful protests against Assad's regime in March 2011 but eventually turned into a civil. Nearly 93,000 people have been killed in the war, according to the United Nations.

Christians are one of the largest religious minorities in the country, composing about 10 percent of Syria's population of 23 million people. They have tried to stay on the sidelines of the conflict, although the opposition's increasingly outspoken Islamism has prompted many to lean toward the regime.