BEIRUT (AP) — A series of rare explosions including suicide bombings rocked coastal government strongholds in Syria Monday, killing more than 80 people and wounding 200 others, state media and opposition activists said. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attacks.
The deadly blasts in the normally quiet pro-government cities of Tartus and Jableh were the first of their kind targeting civilians in those areas in the course of Syria’s civil war, now in its sixth year. The targets included bus stations and a hospital, and marked an escalation in the conflict as world powers struggle to restart peace talks in Geneva.
Several rounds of talks were held in the Swiss city earlier this year, although there was no breakthrough and the talks never really took off.
The TV reports said at least one suicide bomber followed by a car-laden with explosives tore through a packed bus station in Tartus, minutes apart. More than 33 were killed and many injured in the bombings.
Separately, Syria’s SANA news agency reported that four explosions rocked Jableh, south of Latakia city. The attacks included three rockets, and a suicide bomber at the emergency entrance of the Jableh national hospital, the state media said.
Jableh News Network, an opposition activist media group, said among those killed at the hospital is a nurse, Huda al-Houshi.
Jableh news network: (from where we got some UGC before) is reporting using video that one of the suicide attackers is suspected to be a woman. Video shows a woman, naked, cut in two with the impact around her chest.
Footage aired by the state-run Ikhbariya TV showed several cars on fire, thick black smoke billowing in the air. It also showed the charred remains of cars and minivans in what appears to be a bus station in Jableh.
Russia keeps a naval base in Tartus and an air base in Latakia province. Insurgents maintain a presence in rural Latakia.
The coordinated and near-simultaneous attacks marked a major security breach of government strongholds that have remained calm throughout the war. Tartus and Jableh are home to thousands of internally displaced people from violence-stricken areas across Syria.
The bombings unleashed an immediate backlash against the refugees, with families of the victims attacking IDP shelters. One shelter, al-Karnak, was burned down.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition monitoring group based in Britain, put the death toll at more than 100. It said there were seven explosions that ripped through both locations simultaneously: Four in Jableh, including three suicide bombings and one car bomb, and three in Tartus, including two suicide bombers and one car bomb.
In Jableh, dozens were killed when a car bomb went off near a bus station, followed by a suicide bomber who detonated his explosive belt inside the station. Meanwhile, two men blew themselves up at the electricity company and outside the emergency entrance of a city hospital. Dozens more were killed in Tartus when a car bomb went off in the bus station, and then two men blew themselves up when people gathered, according to the Observatory.
“We will not be deterred … we will use everything we have to fight the terrorists,” said Syrian Cabinet minister Omran al-Zoubi on Syrian TV.
A news agency linked with the Islamic State group said the group’s militants were behind the multiple attacks.
The one-sentence report by the IS-linked Aamaq news agency, which routinely carries the group’s news and claims, offered no details.
Associated Press writer Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria contributed to this report.