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Dozens killed in string of deadly Syria blasts

TARTOUS: Syrians and security forces gather at the site of a blast targeting the Arzuna Bridge in a government-held area outside this Syrian city yesterday. - AFP
TARTOUS: Syrians and security forces gather at the site of a blast targeting the Arzuna Bridge in a government-held area outside this Syrian city yesterday. – AFP

DAMASCUS: A string of bombings claimed by the Islamic State group killed dozens across Syria yesterday, as Washington and Moscow failed to agree on a deal to stem the country’s violence. The blasts in mostly government-held territory killed at least 48 people and wounded dozens more, a day after the jihadist group lost the last stretch of the Syria-Turkey border under its control. In China, where world powers were gathered for the G20 meeting, US President Barack Obama and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin touted “productive” talks and “some alignment” on Syria.

But the two powers failed to produce an expected deal to ease the violence in Syria, where more than 290,000 people have been killed and more than half the population displaced since March 2011. The latest carnage came in a series of blasts, the deadliest of which was a double bombing in the coastal province of Tartous, a stronghold of President Bashar Al-Assad’s government. The bombings hit a bridge outside the provincial capital Tartous city, killing at least 35 people and wounding 43, state media said.

The blasts targeted the Arzuna bridge, “the first a car bomb and the second a suicide bomber who detonated his explosive belt when people gathered to help the wounded,” according to state television. Tartous has been largely spared the worst violence of Syria’s conflict since it began with anti-government protests, and has become a refuge for many Syrians fleeing the fighting. In the northeastern city of Hasakeh, a bomber on a motorbike killed six members of the Kurdish security forces and two civilians. The city is mostly controlled by Kurdish forces, though the regime is also present.

In central Homs city, the target was the Al-Zahraa neighborhood, whose residents mostly belong to the same Alawite sect as Assad and have regularly been targeted by devastating bombings. Four people were killed there yesterday, in a car bomb that hit a checkpoint at the district’s entrance. State television broadcast images from the aftermath of the blast in Homs, showing rubble strewn on the streets and smoke rising from the charred remains of vehicles.

An additional attack hit the Al-Sabura road west of the capital Damascus, with state media saying one person had been killed and three wounded. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said that attack targeted a checkpoint and gave a toll of three dead. The IS-affiliated Amaq agency carried a statement saying the jihadist group was behind a “string of simultaneous suicide attacks”.

They came a day after Turkish forces and allied rebels seized the last part of the Turkish-Syrian border under IS control. Turkey began an operation inside Syria on Aug 24, targeting both IS but also Syrian Kurdish forces that have been a key US partner in the fight against the jihadist group in Syria. The operation has put Washington in an awkward position, with two key allies at times clashing on the ground in Syria.

A State Department spokesman said yesterday that Washington’s envoy to the US-led coalition against IS had been in Syria and Turkey last week holding talks with Syrian Kurdish forces and Turkish officials. Washington has urged Kurdish forces to honor a pledge to withdraw east of the Euphrates river to allay Turkish fears of a contiguous semi-autonomous Kurdish zone in Syria.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday said he was working with Russia and the US to have northern Syria declared a no-fly zone, a proposal that has failed to get off the ground in the past. Washington backs the uprising against Assad, but is working with the Syrian leader’s key ally Moscow on a deal to stem the bloodshed. Hopes had been raised that a deal would be announced over the weekend, but US officials said it floundered after Russia backtracked.

Despite the failure, Obama said yesterday that a meeting with Putin on Syria had included “productive conversations about what a real cessation of hostilities would look like”. Putin meanwhile said he felt there was “some alignment of positions and an understanding of what we could do to de-escalate the situation in Syria.” He said a deal with Washington could be firmed up in the “coming days” but refused to give concrete details, saying that US and Russian officials are still “working out some of our preliminary agreements.” US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov are expected to continue the talks in the coming days. – AFP

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