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.


Latest Canada & World News

  • Authorities find no sign of braking by bus driver in fatal California crash

    World News CTV News
    PALM SPRINGS, Calif. -- Ana Car didn't remember the sudden impact, only that she woke up among dead and injured passengers in a dark bus filled with screams of terror and agony. The retired factory worker had spent an evening gambling at a desert casino and was sound asleep when the bus heading to Los Angeles smashed into the rear of a slow-moving tractor-trailer. Source
  • Friends recall Hayden as activist behind historic document

    World News CTV News
    NEW YORK -- When news broke that Tom Hayden had died, many remembered him as the Vietnam War protester, former husband of Jane Fonda or the California legislator. But classmates and fellow activists at the University of Michigan still think of the impassioned and eloquent student who more than anyone shaped a signature document of the 1960s: the Port Huron Statement. Source
  • Surfer bitten by shark in Maui that 'came out of nowhere'

    World News Toronto Sun
    HONOLULU — A surfer says he’s grateful to be recovering in a Maui hospital after a shark bit him — even though the attack forced him and his wife to postpone their honeymoon. Federico Jaime was surfing Friday at a beach about two blocks from his Paia home when he felt a shark chomp down on his left arm, he recalled Monday from his room at Maui Memorial Medical Center. Source
  • Kendall Jenner's testimony at trial not enough for stalking conviction

    World News CBC News
    A jury on Monday acquitted a man of stalking model and reality TV star Kendall Jenner and convicted him of trespassing at her secluded Hollywood Hill home The jury of seven women and five men returned the verdict against Shavaughn McKenzie after a seven-day trial in which Jenner described her fear at finding McKenzie lurking in her driveway and banging on her car window in August. Source
  • 'I stand by what I told Rolling Stone': Woman who alleged rape testifies at trial

    World News CBC News
    The subject of a Rolling Stone article on a gang rape at the University of Virginia that the magazine retracted after investigators found no evidence the attack occurred, testified on Monday she believed she had told the reporter the truth. Source
  • Mexican police find meth hidden in cheese

    World News CTV News
    MEXICO CITY - Mexican prosecutors said Monday that they had found a tunnel in the border city of Tijuana that led toward or into the United States. The attorney general's office did not say whether the tunnel actually reached U.S. Source
  • Former Uruguay president Jorge Batlle dead at 88

    World News CBC News
    Former President Jorge Batlle, an extroverted and irreverent politician who was a force in Uruguayan politics for half a century and led it during one of its worst economic recessions, died on Monday. He was 88. Source
  • Conservatives retain Alta. seat in federal byelection

    Canada News CBC News
    CBC News is projecting Conservative Glen Motz will win the Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner byelection with 196 of 223 polls reporting. Motz had 69.5 per cent (20,405) of the vote with Liberal candidate Stan Sakamoto taking 26.0 per cent (7,645 votes). Source
  • Ottawa police pull over higher rate of Middle Eastern and black drivers: report

    Canada News CTV News
    Ottawa Police are pulling over Middle Eastern and black drivers -- especially young men -- far more often than other groups relative to their population in the city, according to a report analyzing traffic stops over a two year period. Source
  • NAACP demanding federal probe after noose put on African American student

    World News CTV News
    WIGGINS, Miss. -- The president of the Mississippi NAACP is demanding a federal investigation after the parents of a black high school student said four white students put a noose around their son's neck at school. Source