String of ISIL bombings kill 48 across Syria

The bombings came after advances by Turkish forces and allied Syrian rebels expelled ISIL from the last stretch of the Syrian-Turkish border under their control.

Damaged buildings at Bab Tadmour district in the old city of Homs, Syria on September 5, 2016 after a series of bombs in government-held areas killed scores. EPA / Handout photo made available by Syria's Arab News Agency (Sana)
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BEIRUT // A series of bombings claimed by ISIL killed at least 48 people across Syria on Monday, as the extremist group targeted government-held areas and Kurdish forces.

The attacks came after the group steadily lost ground in both Syria and Iraq in recent months. On Sunday, Turkish troops and Syrian rebels drove ISIL back from the last stretch of Syria’s northern border under its control, severing key supply lines to its self-styled caliphate.

The ISIL-run Aamaq news agency said the group was behind the “simultaneous” attacks on Monday, which included six suicide bombings and a remotely detonated bomb. The attacks were timed to coincide with the morning rush hour.

Syrian state TV said 48 people were killed in blasts around the coastal city of Tartus in the west, the central city of Homs, the suburbs of the capital, Damascus, and the north-eastern city of Hassakeh. ISIL said it also carried out an attack in Qamishli, in Hassakeh province.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which maintains a network of contacts inside Syria, put the overall death toll at 53.

One of Monday’s attacks took place in the heavily guarded Damascus suburb of Sabbourah, marking a major security breach. The state news agency Sana said the attack killed one person, while the Observatory said three people were killed. ISIL said a suicide car bomb targeted a military checkpoint in the area west of Damascus.

“It’s an area that houses officers and their families. Even before the revolution it was carefully guarded,” said opposition media activist Yousef Al Boustani, referring to the 2011 uprising against president Bashar Al Assad, which began with peaceful protests.

Most of Monday’s victims were killed in the government stronghold of Tartus, which has been largely spared the worst violence of Syria’s conflict since it began with anti-government protests in 2011, and has become a refuge for many Syrians fleeing the fighting..

A car bomb struck a bridge on the international coastal motorway leading to Tartus and suicide bomber then struck the crowd that had gathered there, according to Sana, which said 35 people were killed. The bombing caused the brief closure of the Tartus-Homs motorway, according to state TV.

The Observatory said the target was a security checkpoint at the southern entrance of the coastal city, which is home to a large Russian naval base. It said the twin blasts killed 38 people, including an army colonel, and wounded dozens more.

A survivor at the Al Bassel Hospital told state TV the blasts occurred near a checkpoint. “My car caught fire and army soldiers pulled us out of the car,” he said.

In May, ISIL claimed twin suicide bombings in Tartus and neighbouring Jableh that killed more than 160 people.

The governor of Homs province said a car bomb struck a military checkpoint in the provincial capital, killing three soldiers and a civilian, and wounding 10 others. The Observatory said four soldiers were killed.

Homs, Syria’s third largest city, is largely under government control, with only one neighbourhood still held by rebels.

The bomb exploded in the Al Zahraa neighbourhood in the government-held Bab Tadmor district, whose residents mostly belong to the same Alawite sect as Mr Al Assad and have regularly been targeted by devastating bombings.

Syrian TV aired footage showing massive damage to the area, with a number of smashed cars and the bloodied body of a guard at the checkpoint.

In the north-eastern city of Hassakeh, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle killed eight people, Sana said. The ISIL news agency said the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber targeting a checkpoint manned by Kurdish forces.

Government forces withdrew from Hassakeh in August after street battles with Kurdish forces, which took control of the city, though the state’s police force remained in place. The Observatory said the blast killed five members of the Kurdish police force, the Asayesh, and three civilians.

ISIL said it also detonated an explosive device in Qamishli, another north-eastern city, targeting a group of Kurdish fighters. The Observatory confirmed the explosion went off but had no casualty figures.

* Associated Press and Agence France-Presse