Syria crisis: At least 18 people killed in car bombings as ceasefire deal reached in Homs

The attacks took place in the province of Hama on the same day that rebel fighters in Homs were allowed a 48-hour window to flee the city

At least 18 people, including 11 children, have been killed in car bomb attacks in two villages in Syria, according to state-run television reports.

The explosions are said to have occurred on Friday in Jabreen and Humayri, both of which are in the central province of Hama and under government control.

Rami Abdurrahman, of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told The Associated Press that the group's activists counted at least 15 dead from the blasts, including at least eight civilians.

Abdurrahman said he wasn't aware so far of any children being killed in the two attacks but conflicting death tolls are common after large bombings.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombings, but the al-Qa'ida-affiliated Nusra Front has claimed responsibility for several car bombings in recent weeks, including a double car bombing in a pro-government district in the central city of Homs and a mortar strike in Damascus that killed at least 54 people on Tuesday.

 

Rights groups have condemned President Bashar Assad's government and the rebels fighting to oust him for using weapons and attacks that overwhelmingly kill civilians.

The deaths came as a ceasefire agreement was reached in the battleground city of Homs on Friday, to allow hundreds of rebel fighters holed up in its old quarters to evacuate.

If the agreement goes through, the capture of the city will be a significant victory for Assad, weeks before presidential elections set for 3 June.

Homs was one of the first cities to rise up against his rule three years ago and was the first city largely taken over by armed rebels as the uprising evolved into outright civil war. 

However, Assad's forces have been engaged in gruelling urban warfare trying to wrest it back, leaving rebels isolated and bloackaded.

An Associated Press team in Homs on Friday said it was unusually quiet, with no shots fired from either side.

“This isn't what we wanted,” a Homs-based opposition activist, Beibars Tilawi, said of the ceasefire in a Skype interview with The Associated Press.

“But it's all we could get.”

The deal is also a face-saving measure for the rebels. It calls for a 48-hour truce in rebel-held parts of Homs, after which, hundreds of fighters holed up in the area will be evacuated to opposition-held areas north of the city, said Tilawi and another activist who uses the name Thaer Khalildiya, who is based in countryside north of Homs.

News of the ceasefire deal was also reported by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict, and the Al-Manar TV channel, owned by the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, allied to Assad, as well as by Lebanese channel Al-Mayadeen.

There was no immediate comment by Syrian officials.

Additional reporting by agencies

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