Deadly blasts kill 20 in Syrian city ahead of peace talks

BEIRUT -- Multiple bombings targeted a government-run security checkpoint in the central Syrian city of Homs on Tuesday, killing at least 20 people and wounding over a hundred amid intense political jockeying ahead of UN-backed peace talks scheduled to begin in Geneva Friday.

See Full Article

With just three days to go, the opposition is still undecided about whether it will attend the talks, throwing diplomatic efforts into question even as the UN's special envoy to Syria was preparing to send out invitations.

The talks are meant to start a political process to end the conflict that began in 2011 as a largely peaceful uprising against Assad's rule but escalated into an all-out war after a harsh state crackdown. The plan calls for cease-fires in parallel to the talks, a new constitution and elections in a year and a half.

The attack in Homs, which was claimed by the Islamic State group, came as government forces retook a strategic town from opposition fighters and militants in the south of the country.

Homs Governor Talal Barazi told the SANA news agency that the checkpoint was hit "first by a car bomb, which was then followed by a suicide bombing."

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility, according to a report by the Aamaq news agency, which is affiliated with the extremist group.

Syrian state television broadcast footage of the aftermath of the Homs bombing, showing cars ablaze and extensive damage to shops and apartments around the site of the explosion in the Zahra neighbourhood, which is inhabited mostly by members of President Bashar Assad's Alawite sect, an offshoot of Islam.

The district has been a frequent target of bombings in the past few months.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group which relies on a network of informants across Syria for its news, said the death toll had climbed to 25, with 15 of the casualties being security personnel.

The Observatory quoted witnesses at the scene saying the first bomber attracted a crowd of security agents by shouting curses about the Homs governor, then blew his vehicle up.

Homs, which was once known as the "capital of the revolution," is Syria's third largest city and was one of the first to rise against the government in 2012. Government forces have since managed to expel most militants from the city and much of it has been destroyed.

Meanwhile, in southern Syria, government forces took control of the town of Sheikh Maskin, culminating an offensive that began in late December to retake the town after seizing the Brigade 82 military base, nearby.

Sheikh Maskin lies near the highway connecting Damascus and the Jordanian border and connects the Syrian capital to Daraa, a border town held by opposition fighters. It is the latest in a string of battlefield successes for Assad's military that have bolstered his hand ahead of the planned peace talks.

The Saudi-backed opposition was meeting Tuesday in Riyadh to make a final decision whether to attend the talks. The opposition has accused Russia, a key backer of the Syrian government, of trying to "dictate" who from the opposition would participate in the talks.

Tensions over who would be invited to the talks forced a few days' delay and continued Tuesday, few days before Friday's target date.

Russia argued strongly against Turkey's demand to keep a leading Kurdish group out of the talks, and said it expects the UN envoy to resist "blackmail by Turkey and others, reflecting the sharp differences that remain.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov emphasized at a press conference in Moscow that the main Syrian Kurdish group -- the Democratic Union Party, or PYD -- plays an important role in fighting the Islamic State group and is an essential part of political settlement in Syria.

Turkey sees the PYD and its YPG militia group as branches of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, a Kurdish group that Ankara has long fought and considers a terrorist group.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Ont. teen subject of Amber Alert wasn't actually abducted, police say

    Canada News CTV News
    MISSISSAUGA, Ont. - Police in Peel Region west of Toronto say a 15-year-old girl who was the subject of an Amber Alert on Monday was not kidnapped as initially suspected. The alert had cited witnesses as saying the girl had been forced into a van in Mississauga by two men. Source
  • Okla. shooting victim saved by plate in neck: investigators

    World News CTV News
    TAHLEQUAH, Okla. - Investigators say a metal plate in an Oklahoma man's neck saved him from paralysis or worse when he was shot. Robert Thurman told 911 dispatchers Friday that his sister Gretchen Thurman shot him, The Tahlequah Daily Press reported. Source
  • South Korean court denies request to arrest Samsung Group chief

    World News CBC News
    A South Korean court on Thursday denied a special prosecutor clearance to arrest the head of Samsung Group, the country's largest conglomerate, amid a graft scandal that has led to the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye. Source
  • Virginia man who killed noted musician and his family is executed

    World News CBC News
    Virginia has executed a man convicted of killing two young girls and their parents during a New Year's Day home invasion more than 11 years ago. Authorities say 39-year-old Ricky Gray was pronounced dead at 9:42 p.m. Source
  • Alaska volcano erupts again, sends ash cloud to 31,000 feet

    World News CTV News
    ANCHORAGE, Alaska - An Alaska volcano active since mid-December has erupted again. Bogoslof Volcano in the Aleutian lslands erupted at 1:20 p.m. Wednesday and sent up an ash cloud estimated at 31,000 feet. The Alaska Volcano Observatory raised the aviation threat code to red, the highest level. Source
  • Hardworking Winnipeg server gets life-changing $1,000 tip

    Canada News CTV News
    A Winnipeg restaurant server thought one of her customers was out to lunch when she received a life-changing $1,000 tip on Saturday. Jennifer Peitsch choked back tears of joy as she asked if the woman’s extravagant gratuity on an $87.15 meal at Mongo’s Grill was indeed real. Source
  • Dramatic video shows two armed robberies in central Alberta

    Canada News CTV News
    Two separate, but equally frightening, armed robberies were caught by surveillance cameras in central Alberta. During the past month there have been a number of armed robberies in the area, which are being investigated by RCMP. Source
  • So long from White House: Obama aims final messages at Trump

    World News Toronto Sun
    WASHINGTON — Barack Obama stepped behind the White House podium for the last time Wednesday, fielding questions from the crush of journalists crammed in for the occasion and offering assurances to Americans watching on TV. But at times, his answers seemed aimed at an audience of one: the man who will replace him at noon Friday. Source
  • PM Trudeau should protect Kathy Katula from trolls: Tory MP

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    Justin Trudeau must protect real Canadians like Kathy Katula from Liberal trolls and haters, a Conservative MP says. Carleton MP Pierre Poilievre came to the aid of Katula — the 54-year-old Buckhorn, Ont. grandmother who made headlines for her emphatic plea to the PM to not pile the carbon tax onto her as she’s already towing the poverty line — and said Trudeau needs to as well. Source
  • WikiLeaks' Julian Assange backs away from extradition pledge

    World News CTV News
    PARIS -- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange retreated from his pledge to accept extradition to the U.S. if Chelsea Manning was granted clemency, arguing Wednesday via his lawyers that what he was really asking for was an immediate pardon for the ex-Army analyst. Source