Friday 24 January 2020

Suicide bombings kill dozens in Syria in worst attacks in months

Damages after a suicide bomb attack are seen in Sweida, Syria July 25, 2018. Sana/Handout via REUTERS
Damages after a suicide bomb attack are seen in Sweida, Syria July 25, 2018. Sana/Handout via REUTERS

Albert Aji

The death toll in a series of attacks in Sweida province in southwest Syria on Wednesday has climbed to 50, said al-Manar TV, run by Damascus ally Hezbollah.

It cited the head of the Sweida health authority as saying 78 people were wounded.

State media had earlier reported that 38 people were killed in the attacks, blaming Islamic State militants for the carnage.

The attacks, the worst in recent months, were reminiscent of the violence by IS that previously spread mayhem across the country, already ravaged by the civil war.

Al-Ikhbariya state-run TV showed images from several locations in Sweida province where the bombers blew themselves up, including a vegetable market and a busy square in the provincial capital, also called Sweida.

The rare attacks in Sweida and its capital, a predominantly Druze city, came amid a government offensive in the country's south. Government forces are battling an IS affiliate near the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights area and the border with Jordan.

IS has been largely defeated in Syria and Iraq, but still has pockets of territory it controls in eastern and southern Syria.

Since its offensive started in June, President Bashar Assad's forces have retaken territories controlled by the rebels along the Golan Heights frontier and are now fighting militants in the country's southern tip.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the clashes in the Sweida countryside and the bombings in the provincial capital killed 56 people, including 28 pro-government fighters, four attackers and 12 militants.

The discrepancy in death tolls is common in the early hours of such large attacks.

Al-Ikhbariya said one of the attackers hit at a vegetable market in the city just after 5am, a busy time for the merchants at the start of their day.

The bomber drove through the market on a motorcycle and blew himself up, the TV station said. The second attacker hit in another busy square in the city. Two others blew themselves up when they were chased by authorities.

The city of Sweida has largely been spared most of the violence Syrian cities have witnessed in the years since the conflict started in 2011.

For the southern offensive, government forces redeployed troops from Sweida province last month to attack rebels and IS-affiliated militants in the nearby provinces of Daraa and Quneitra.

The government is in control of Daraa, but continues to battle militants in Quneitra.

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