Isil targets commuters as 78 die in bus station explosions
A SERIES of bomb attacks during morning rush hour have killed at least 78 people in two government strongholds on Syria's Mediterranean coast, state media say.
The bombs targeted bus stations in the city of Tartous and Jableh, a town to the north, and Jableh hospital.
The two places have until now escaped the worst of the war.
Reports on the number of fatalities varied, with one report saying more than 120 people died.
A news agency linked to Isil claimed the jihadist group was responsible for the attacks.
The agency, Amaq, cited an Isil source and said militants had targeted "gatherings of Alawites", a reference to the heterodox Shia sect to which President Bashar al-Assad belongs.
Russia - a key backer of Mr Assad - has a naval base in Tartous and an airbase near Jableh, from where it has conducted air strikes on Isil targets across Syria.
The state news agency, Sana, cited a police source as saying that 45 people were killed and many others, most of them women and children, were injured in Jableh.
It reported that two bombs exploded at the main entrance of the town's bus station.
Near-simultaneous car and suicide bombings hit the main bus station in Tartous.
Jableh's bus station was also targeted, along with the town's hospital.
A suicide bomber also blew himself up at the entrance of the emergency department at Jableh National Hospital, Sana added.
The fourth blast reportedly occurred near the offices of Jableh's electricity directorate, on the outskirts of the Amara residential district.
In Tartous, more than 33 people were killed and 47 injured, Sana said. A car bomb was detonated at the main gate to the city's bus station, while a suicide bomber detonated an explosive vest inside the facility, it added.
Another bomber blew himself up in a residential area in the west of the city, according to Sana.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group which relies on a network of sources on the ground, reported that 73 people were killed in Jableh and another 48 in Tartous.
It said the two bombings at the bus station in Jableh were suicide attacks.
Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said terrorist groups were resorting to bomb attacks against civilians because they were unable to fight the Syrian army.
"We will not be deterred," he told al-Ikhbariya TV.
"We will use everything we have to fight the terrorists."
Russia said the attacks underlined the fragile situation in Syria.
The Kremlin expressed concern at the blasts and said they underscored the need to continue peace talks between the government and opposition.
"Of course, a rise in tension and terrorist activity cannot but heighten concern.
"It is further proof of how fragile the situation is in Syria and demonstrates the necessity to continue active steps towards resuming talks," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow.
Asked whether Russia would consider its decision in March to withdraw most of its forces from Syria, Mr Peskov pointed to a statement by President Vladimir Putin, noting that the country's infrastructure allowed for a "very flexible approach".
Isil, which is fighting both government and rebel forces trying to topple Mr Assad, has killed scores of people in suicide bombings in Damascus and Homs this year.