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Nearly 150 killed in bombings on Syria regime strongholds

Fifty-three people were killed in the city of Jableh and another 48 died in Tartus, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

Damascus // Nearly 150 people were killed on Monday in bombings claimed by ISIL in north-western Syria, the deadliest attacks yet in the regime’s coastal heartland.

Seven near-simultaneous explosions targeted bus stations, hospitals and other sites in the seaside cities of Jableh and Tartus, which until now had been relatively insulated from Syria’s five-year civil war.

The attacks on strongholds of President Bashar Al Assad’s regime came as ISIL faces mounting pressure in both Syria and Iraq, where Baghdad’s forces on Monday launched a major offensive to retake Fallujah.

A hundred people were killed in Jableh and another 48 in Tartus to the south, at least eight of them children, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said they were “without a doubt the deadliest attacks” on the two cities since the start of the war.

ISIL claimed responsibility for the blasts, saying its fighters had attacked “Alawite gatherings” in Jableh and Tartus, referring to the minority sect from which Mr Al Assad hails.

“I’m shocked, this is the first time I hear sounds like this,” said Mohsen Zayyoud, a 22-year-old university student in Jableh. “I thought the war was over and that I could walk safely. But I was surprised to see that we’re still in the heart of the battle.”

In Tartus a 42-year-old bank employee was just as stunned.

“It’s the first time we hear explosions in Tartus, and the first time we see dead people or body parts here,” Shady Osman said.

Jableh lies in Latakia province, while Tartus is the capital of the adjacent governorate of the same name.

Both cities have remained relatively secure even as the war has raged in Latakia province’s rural north-east and throughout the country.

ISIL’s had previously been thought to have no presence in Syria’s coastal provinces although its extremist rival Jabhat Al Nusra is much more prominent.

The attacks began at 9am local time with three explosions at a busy bus station in Tartus, where regime ally Russia has long maintained a naval facility.

The Observatory said one car bomb detonated first, and as people began to flock to the site two suicide bombers detonated explosive belts.

Footage of the damaged station showed charred minibuses on their sides while others were still ablaze.

Approximately 15 minutes after the Tartus blasts, the explosions began in Jableh, 40km to the north.

The Observatory said four blasts — one car bomb and three suicide attackers — targeted a bus station, a hospital, and a power station there.

One attacker detonated explosives inside the emergency room of the state-run hospital after carrying victims of the first attack there, the monitor said.

A police officer said a car bomb also targeted the Asaad hospital in the city.

A Kremlin spokesman condemned the attacks, saying they “demonstrate yet again how fragile the situation is in Syria and the need to take energetic measures to relaunch peace talks.”

World powers have struggled to rekindle UN-brokered peace negotiations which fizzled in April when Syria’s opposition walked away in frustration at stalling progress on the country’s dire humanitarian situation.

Syria’s conflict has evolved from a popular uprising to a multifaceted war that has killed more than 270,000 people and displaced millions.

ISIL seized control of large parts of Syria and Iraq in mid-2014, declaring a “caliphate” and spreading its influence.

*Agence France-Presse

Updated: May 23, 2016 04:00 AM

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