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Syrian state TV: Car bomb kills 10 in gov’t-held town

Sarah el Deeb
Associated Press

Beirut — A large explosion hit a Syrian government-held coastal town on Thursday, killing at least 10 people and wounding dozens, according to Syria’s state TV — an attack that undermined a nearly week-old and already shaky Russia- and Turkey-brokered cease-fire.

First videos that emerged from the scene in the town of Jableh show charred cars, some turned upside down, and extensive damage to shops lining a commercial street filled with onlookers. The images show pools of blood covering the asphalt as fire engines were scrambling to put out small fires, apparently caused by the explosion.

Qusay al-Khalil, the head of the local hospital, said the explosion also severely wounded at least 30 people. “The explosion rocked the town,” he told state TV, adding that it prompted a state alert at his hospital.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the civil war, put the death toll at 15. The monitoring group relies on a network of activists on the ground in Syria.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing in Jableh, which lies in the coastal Latakia province, the heartland of Syria’s Alawites, a Shiite offshoot to which President Bashar Assad’s family also belongs.

The Islamic State group and the al-Qaida-linked Fatah al-Sham Front are not part of the broad truce that the Syrian government and the opposition agreed on last week.

The cease-fire, which came into effect on Dec. 30, has largely held, except for intense fighting in the Barada Valley outside Damascus, a major source of water for the capital. Both the government and the rebels have accused the other side of violating the truce.

In comments published Wednesday, the al-Qaida-linked group in Syria said the cease-fire is “humiliating” and that those who agreed to it made a “big mistake.” The Fatah al-Sham Front spokesman Hossam al-Shafei also said major battlefield victories are necessary for a political solution to be reached.

Although explosions are rare in the government-controlled Latakia, Jableh was rocked in May last year by a string of blasts that first hit in a crowded bus station, then outside a hospital receiving the wounded, killing a total of about 120 people. The attacks were claimed by the Islamic State group.

Police chief of Latakia province Yasser al-Shariti told state TV the explosion Thursday hit during rush hour when government employees and students were crowding a main street in Jableh that lies near a sports stadium.

Under the new cease-fire agreement, Russia and Iran are tasked with ensuring compliance by the Syrian government and its allies, while Turkey is serving as a guarantor for the rebels. On Wednesday, Turkey called on Iran to rein in the pro-government forces. Tehran countered by accusing the opposition of dozens of violations and called Turkey’s comments “unconstructive.”

The government in Damascus says the truce does not apply in the Barada Valley because of the presence of al-Qaida-linked fighters. But activists and rebel groups have challenged the government claim, with some arguing the militants don’t operate in the area. The rebels have said all areas not ruled by IS are covered under the agreement.

The truce was meant to pave way for peace negotiations planned for later this month in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, but nearly a dozen rebel groups announced on Monday they were suspending talks about the negotiations.

The presence of al-Qaida-linked militants, who fight alongside other rebel factions and have been credited with some of their biggest victories, has undermined past truce attempts. The Fatah al-Sham Front, formerly known as the Nusra Front, announced last year that it had severed tied with al-Qaida, but is still widely believed to be linked to the global terror network.

Fatah al-Sham spokesman al-Shafei said in an interview published late Wednesday by Al-Jazeera Net that the current truce only protects Assad and allied Iranian-backed militias.

“The people of (Syria) didn’t offer all these sacrifices to be handed this humiliating agreement,” he was quoted as saying.