Suicide blast kills 9 in Syrian city of Idlib

 

Two suicide bombers blew up cars rigged with explosives near a military compound and a hotel in a city in northwestern Syria today, killing at least nine people and wounding nearly 100, state media said.

The blasts, which also tore two large craters in the ground, were the latest setback for troubled United Nations efforts to end Syria's 13-month-old crisis. A team of UN observers is already on the ground to salvage a cease-fire that went into effect April 12 but has been widely ignored by both sides. UN officials have singled out the regime as the main aggressor in violations of the truce.

Monday's powerful bombs went off in the city of Idlib, an opposition stronghold that government troops recaptured in a military offensive earlier this year.

The state-run news agency SANA said security forces and civilians were among those killed, while state TV said that many of the nearly 100 wounded were civilians. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist network, put the death toll at more than 20 people.

Syria's pro-government al-Ekhbariya TV aired footage of the aftermath from the blasts, showing torn flesh, smashed cars, twisted debris and blood stains on the pavement. The force of the explosions tore the facade off one multistory building, shattered windows in the area and sent debris flying for hundreds of meters. Pro-government websites said five buildings damaged.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks. State media blamed "armed terrorists," a term it uses for rebels trying to topple the government. Activists claimed the regime was behind the bombings to discredit the opposition.

The bombers detonated their explosives near a military compound and near the city's Carlton Hotel, SANA said.

A local activist, who only gave his first name, Ibrahim, for fear of repercussions, said the two sites are several hundred meters apart and that the explosions went off within five minutes of each other after daybreak Monday.

Two members of the UN observer team toured the site of the bombings, SANA said. Ibrahim said the observers have been staying at the Carlton, and a pro-government website reported that the hotel sustained some damage.

Earlier today, gunmen fired rocket-propelled grenades at the central bank and a police patrol in the capital of Damascus, wounding four officers and causing light damage to the bank, SANA said.

Monday's bombings were the latest in a series of suicide bombings to hit Syria.

An al-Qa'ida-inspired Islamist group called the Al-Nusra Front to Protect the Levant claimed responsibility today for a suicide bombing in downtown Damascus that killed at least 10 people on Friday. The Associated Press could not verify the authenticity of Al-Nusra's statement which was posted on a militant website.

On Sunday, the head of the UN observer team, Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, appealed to both sides to halt the fighting. "We want to have combined efforts focusing on the welfare of the Syrian people, true cessation of violence in all its forms," he said after his arrival in the Syrian capital. Sixteen monitors are on the ground, but the team is to expand to 300.

AP

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