Blasts kill more than 80 in Syria's government strongholds
Published 23/05/2016 | 10:01
More than 80 people have been killed and around 200 others injured in a series of attacks claimed by Islamic State in coastal government strongholds in Syria.
The explosions in the cities of Tartus and Jableh were the first to target 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 mark 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.
Syrian state media said at least one suicide bomber followed by a car bomb struck at a bus station in Tartus. More than 33 were killed and many injured in the bombings, an Interior Ministry official said.
Separately, Syria news agency Sana 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.
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 Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition monitoring group based in Britain, put the death toll at more than 100. It said there were four explosions in Jableh, including three suicide bombings and one car bomb, and four in Tartus, including two suicide bombers and one car bomb.
In Jableh, dozens were killed when a car bomb exploded 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.
Syrian cabinet minister Omran al-Zoubi said: "We will not be deterred ... we will use everything we have to fight the terrorists."
A news agency linked with the Islamic State group said the group's militants were behind the multiple attacks.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman said the increase in militant attacks and bombings in Syria "once again demonstrates how fragile the situation in Syria is".
Dmitry Peskov said the situation "demonstrates the need to continue vigorous steps to continue the negotiation process".
Asked whether Russia would reconsider its decision to scale back the size of its military contingent in Syria, he pointed to Mr Putin's statement that Russia's bases in Syria allow for "a very flexible approach" to the number of its troops deployed there.
Mr Putin sent a telegram to Syrian President Bashar Assad passing on his condolences over the deaths of civilians and confirming Russia's readiness to continue supporting its "Syrian partners".
The Kremlin said Mr Putin "stressed that this tragedy has become further evidence of the barbarian and inhuman nature of the terrorist groups that have unleashed bloody war against the Syrian people".
It said: "The president of Russia once again confirmed a readiness to continue cooperation with the Syrian partners in countering the terrorist threat and expressed confidence that the criminals who stained their hands with the blood of innocent victims will not escape retribution."