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Dozens killed in multiple bomb blasts across Syria

Buildings in the old city of Homs, Syria, lie in ruins on Monday.
Buildings in the old city of Homs, Syria, lie in ruins on Monday.
(Syrian Arab News Agency)

A wave of car and suicide bombings hit several government-controlled areas in Syria on Monday, state media reported, killing at least 38 people.

The six explosions, all of which took place Monday between 8 and 9 a.m., struck Tartus, Homs, Damascus, Hasakah and Qamishli. Islamic State claimed responsibility for all of the attacks through its Amaq news agency.

By far the deadliest attack took place just outside Tartus, an idyllic coastal Mediterranean city considered to be a heartland area for Syria’s Alawites, members of a heterodox mountain sect of which Syrian President Bashar Assad is a part.

Thirty people were killed and 45 wounded, according to state news agency SANA, which broadcast images of damaged vehicles and blood spattered on nearby concrete barriers.

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A suicide bomber first walked up to a checkpoint that was set up near the southern entrance of the city and detonated his explosives vest, Ghassan Hasan, an activist who runs the Tartous Today Facebook page, said over social media.

Ten minutes later, another suicide bomber in a pickup truck detonated his explosives vest once people had gathered to assist the wounded. “This was a major checkpoint, with an office checking identity cards to see if people have any criminal records,” said Hasan.

“With Eid [al-Adha] holidays coming, employees were coming to their villages and there is always traffic at the beginning of the month, so it was crowded.”

Fifteen cars burned with their occupants inside, security officials there told Hasan. Later, he said he had been told the death toll from the double bombings rose to 35.

The attacks represent a serious breach of security for Tartus, a city that has largely been spared the ravages of the five-year civil war in Syria despite being a prime target for rebel attacks. The bombs struck during a summer festival taking place in the city.

The opposition is dominated by Sunni Islamist factions who consider Alawites to be apostates who must either convert or be killed, and regularly use derogatory sectarian terms to describe them. The animus has driven the government to ramp up security on highways connecting its core areas along the Mediterranean coast; drivers must contend with a dizzying number of checkpoints that often add hours to any trip.

Yet Tartus is also home to hundreds of refugees from opposition areas, most of them Sunni, fleeing the fighting and aerial bombings by government warplanes.

State media also reported a car bomb at a checkpoint placed at the entrance of the Zahra neighborhood in the central city of Homs, which killed two pro-government troops and wounded four others.

The mostly Alawite neighborhood is another frequent target of attacks by the armed opposition pitted against Assad. Hastily erected cinder-block barriers were once a common sight on the neighborhood’s sidewalks and major thoroughfares, meant to shield residents from rebel sniper fire until a deal pushed the opposition out of the city in 2015.

Another person was killed and three others wounded in another bomb attack in Saboura, a suburb about 10 miles west of the Syrian capital, Damascus, state media said.

Meanwhile, Amaq said that Islamic State carried out a pair of suicide bombings in Hasakah and Qamishli, cities that are nominally under government control but which are mostly in the hands of a Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG. The agency reported one attacker with a suicide vest had left 15 “Kurdish units” either dead or wounded, while there were seven casualties after the detonation of “an explosive canister” in Qamishli.

All told, pro-government commentators on social media said 43 were killed and more than 60 wounded in the violence, while the pro-opposition watchdog Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll at 47.

The attacks punctuate the intense diplomatic dance going on between the U.S. and Russia over the city of Aleppo, once Syria’s industrial powerhouse and now the focal point of bloody clashes between the government and the opposition. On Sunday, pro-government forces reimposed a siege on the eastern rebel-held neighborhoods of Aleppo, thought to be home to between 150,000 and 200,000 people, even while the U.S. is pressuring Russia to rein in its allies and allow aid to enter the divided city.

Bulos is a special correspondent.

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UPDATES:

3:02 p.m.: Updated with Islamic State claim of responsibility.

10:40 a.m.: Updated with Times reporting.

2:34 a.m.: Updated with latest death toll.

1:35 a.m.: This article was updated with new casualty counts.

This article was originally published at 1:05 a.m.


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