Blasts rock Syrian city of Homs, killing at least 32

BEIRUT -- Two blasts in the central Syrian city of Homs killed at least 32 people and wounded dozens Sunday in the latest wave of violence to hit the city in recent weeks, state TV said.

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The Homs blasts came amid reports that Syrian government forces captured 31 villages in the northern province of Aleppo from the extremist Islamic State group. Syrian troops have been on the offensive in different parts of the country under the cover of Russian airstrikes.

The television report said Sunday's blasts struck in the pro-government neighbourhood of Zahraa -- a frequent target for similar explosions. The report quoted Homs governor Talal Barrazi as saying that 32 people were killed and dozens others wounded, some seriously.

Most of the bombing attacks in Homs over the past months have been claimed by IS, which controls parts of Homs province including the historic town of Palmyra.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists around Syria, said the blasts killed 46 and wounded more than 100. The Observatory said the blasts were caused by two vehicles rigged with explosives after reporting earlier that it was not immediately clear if the second was caused by a car bomb or a suicide attacker wearing an explosive belt.

State TV said the blasts occurred at about 8:15 a.m. (06:15 GMT) saying they were the result of two car bombs.

The report aired footage of the destruction caused by the blasts. Debris and mangled cars filled the streets and the charred body of a man was seen being taken away on a stretcher.

The Zahra neighbourhood is predominantly Alawite, the minority Muslim sect to which President Bashar Assad belongs.

Homs, once dubbed the capital of the Syrian revolution, has been hit with a wave of explosions in recent months, killing and wounding scores of people. The rebels controlled large parts of Homs after the uprising against Assad's government began in March 2011.

With time, the government gained control of most of Homs' neighbourhoods and a deal was reached late last year for militants to evacuate the last rebel-held neighbourhood of Waer.

Two blasts hit the Zahra neighbourhood on Jan. 26, killing 20 and wounding more than 100 people.

To the north, the Syrian army captured 31 villages on Sunday that were controlled by IS, according to the pro-Syrian Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV and Hezbollah's Al-Manar station.

Al-Mayadeen and Al-Manar often have reporters embedded with Syrian troops in northern Syria.

Syrian state media earlier reported that Syrian troops had captured some 10 villages in Aleppo province from IS.


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