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Mortar round hits Vatican embassy in Damascus

Posted: November 5, 2013 9:22 a.m.
Updated: November 5, 2013 9:22 a.m.
 

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — A mortar round slammed into a Damascus building that houses the Vatican's embassy on Tuesday, eyewitnesses and a spokesman said, the latest in a string of attacks that have hit 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 shelling, 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.

Despite the violence, the Syrian currency improved, the pro-government daily al-Watan reported Tuesday. It said that after Monday trading, 125 Syrian pounds would purchase a U.S. dollar on the black market, while the official price was 138 pounds to the dollar.

The Syrian pound has been steadily improving after reaching a record low of more than 300 pounds to the dollar in the summer, when the U.S. threatened to strike the country following a chemical weapons attack near Damascus that killed hundreds.

The currency has improved on the back of optimism among Syrian officials, with forces securing a string of victories against rebels, including at the strategic northern town of Safira last week.

Traders appear to be hoping that a proposed peace conference in Geneva to end Syria's civil war will bring an end to the conflict.

The market was closed Tuesday because of the Islamic new year and exchange shops and banks were closed.

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