ISIL bombings kill more than 120 in Damascus and Homs

Attacks targeted area near a Shiite shrine south of the Syrian capital and an Alawite neighbourhood of Homs.

Syrians gather at the site of a double car bomb attack in the Al Zahraa neighbourhood of the central Syrian city of Homs. AFP
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Beirut // ISIL-claimed suicide bombings on Sunday killed at least 119 people in Syria’s central city of Homs and near a shrine outside Damascus.

Double car bombings killed at least 57 people and wounded dozens in the Al Zahraa district of Homs, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

A further 62 people were killed in a series of attacks, including a car bombing, near the Shiite shrine of Sayyida Zeinab south of the capital, said state television.

ISIL claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying that two ISIL militants drove cars carrying explosives into crowds of residents in Homs, and two militants later blew themselves up at the shrine.

The attack in Homs was the worst in the city since twin bombings hit a school in October 2014, killing at least 55 people including 49 children.

Al Zahraa – whose residents are mostly from the same Alawite sect as Syria’s ruling clan – has been regularly targeted by attacks, including last month when a double bombing that ISIL claimed responsibility for killed 22 people.

State television footage from the scene showed emergency workers carrying a charred body on a stretcher past shops shorn of their fronts and mangled cars and minibuses.

South of Damascus, an area of the Sayyida Zeinab shrine was rocked by a car bombing and two suicide attacks, state television reported.

ISIL last month said it orchestrated bombings that killed at least 70 people near the shrine, which contains the grave of a granddaughter of the Prophet Mohammed and is revered by Shiites.

World powers have been pushing for a halt in fighting in Syria that was meant to take effect by Friday, but they have struggled to agree on how it should be enacted.

The latest bombings came as the US secretary of state John Kerry said he had spoken with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, and agreed on how to enact a ceasefire. “We have reached a provisional agreement, in principle, on the terms of the cessation of hostilities that could begin in the coming days,” he said in Amman on Sunday.

World powers proposed the truce just over a week ago as part of a plan that also included expanded humanitarian access, in an effort to pave the way for the resumption of peace talks.

The talks, which collapsed this month in Geneva, were scheduled to resume this Thursday, but the UN’s envoy on Syria acknowledged that the date was no longer realistic.

Meanwhile, Mr Al Assad said he was ready for a ceasefire, but said it should not be exploited by terrorists.

Moscow, which backs the Assad regime, is a key architect of the proposed ceasefire, but it has shown little sign so far that it plans to rein in the air campaign it began in September in support of the regime.

On Saturday, the Kremlin said it would continue “to provide assistance and help to the armed forces of Syria in their offensive actions against terrorists”.

Regime forces backed by Russian strikes were advancing east of Aleppo city against ISIL on Sunday, consolidating their control over a stretch of motorway from the city to the Kweyris military base. The Observatory said at least 50 ISIL fighters had been killed in clashes and the advance of Russian strikes since Saturday.

Tensions, meanwhile, have been rising between Russia and Turkey, which backs the Syrian opposition. Ankara has been alarmed by the Syrian regime’s Russian-backed advances and a major operation by Kurdish-led forces in Aleppo province.

The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and their Arab partners have in recent days seized key territory from rebel forces in Aleppo, prompting Turkish anger and shelling of their positions.

Ankara considers the YPG an affiliate of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

It fears the Kurdish advances are intended to link up areas in north and north-east Syria to create a semi-autonomous Kurdish zone along the Syrian-Turkish border.

Yesterday, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan defended his country’s fight against the YPG as “legitimate defence” after international calls for Ankara to halt its military action in Syria.

* Agence France-Presse