Dozens die in suicide bombings across Syrian cities
Dozens of people have been killed in an apparently coordinated string of bombings across government-held cities in Syria, as battles that have drawn in regional and international powers rage throughout an embattled country carved into competing spheres of influence.
Syrian state media said at least 40 people had died in six suicide bombings in the city of Homs in central Syria, the suburbs of Damascus, the suburbs of the coastal city of Tartus, and the Kurdish-controlled Hasakah city. Dozens more have been wounded.
Police in Tartus said a car bomb detonated on the main road leading into the city, and a second suicide bomber killed several who had gathered in the aftermath, killing 30 people and wounding 45. Two other bombings near Damascus killed one person and injured three, while a car bomb in Homs city killed four people and injured 10.
In Hasakah, which is controlled predominantly by Kurdish paramilitaries known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG), five people were killed in the city centre after a motorbike laden with explosives was detonated. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack on its news agency Amaq.
Tartus has remained loyal to the government of Bashar al-Assad throughout five years of civil war and has been largely spared the destruction wrought on other parts of the country, emerging as a relative haven for refugees who wished to remain in Syria. The area is also home to Russian naval and air force facilities, with Moscow directing its aerial campaign in Syria from there.
In May, Tartus and neighbouring Jableh city was hit by a string of suicide bombings orchestrated by Isis, in which 184 people were killed and more than 200 wounded.
The latest bombings came amid multiple battlefield defeats by Isis and other significant developments over the weekend that have added another layer of complexity and suffering to a war that has claimed nearly half a million lives and displaced half the population.
In Aleppo, which has been divided for four years into interlaced zones of opposition and regime control, forces loyal to Assad succeeded on Sunday in reimposing a siege on the rebel-held eastern districts, only a month after it was lifted in a rebel offensive.
The Syrian government and opposition activists said troops loyal to Assad, backed by the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, took control of a military complex and academy south-west of the city in an area called Ramouseh, once again severing rebel supply lines that had linked the besieged eastern half of the city with territory controlled by the opposition in the surrounding countryside.
A rebel coalition known as Jaysh al-Fateh – which includes the former al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, previously known as al-Nusra Front – had succeeded in breaking the siege by taking control of Ramouseh, though little aid had made it through the battle-scarred neighbourhood.
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Its renewal places a quarter of a million civilians under siege once more, where they have little food and medicine in addition to continuous aerial bombardment.
There is little hope for an immediate alleviation of the suffering as talks between Washington and Moscow on a new peace proposal on the sidelines of the G20 summit stalled amid the growing carnage.
The US and Russia struggled on Monday to keep alive negotiations to end the bloodshed, with Barack Obama, the US president, expressing scepticism that an unlikely alliance of rivals would yield a breakthrough.
A second day of talks between John Kerry, the US secretary of state, and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, ended without a deal. The two diplomats met for an hour but emerged still at odds on certain issues.
“Given the gaps of trust that exist, that’s a tough negotiation,” Obama told a press conference closing the G20 summit. “We haven’t yet closed the gaps.”
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The prospect of successful peace talks appeared even more remote as Turkey, a Nato member and US ally, was drawn further into the conflict in Syria, sending more tanks over the weekend across its 500-mile border with its southern neighbour in an effort to crush Isis and the ambitions of Kurdish paramilitaries who hope to establish an autonomous state in northern Syria.
Turkey’s prime minister, Binali Yıldırım, said rebel forces backed by Turkish tanks, artillery and airstrikes had succeeded in eliminating Isis’s presence on the border, clearing a 60-mile corridor from the town of Jarablus, which was the group’s last main stronghold on the border, to the rebel-held town of Azaz, north of Aleppo.
‘‘From Azaz to Jarablus … our border has been completely secured,” Yıldırım said on Sunday. “All the terrorist organisations are pushed back; they are gone.”
Turkish troops intervened in the conflict 12 days ago, sending tanks across the border in an incursion towards Jarablus that saw the town retaken from Isis within hours. Over the weekend, Turkish forces again crossed the border from the town of Elbeyli in the southern province of Kilis, and are likely now to back the rebels in a drive towards the city of al-Bab, the last major Isis-held territory north of Aleppo city.
Ankara’s forceful intervention has further complicated the conflict’s dynamics. Turkey’s aim is to fight both Isis and Kurdish paramilitaries.
Ankara sees an autonomous Kurdish zone in northern Syria as a threat to its national security that would provide strategic depth to Kurdish insurgents that have fought a long-running war with the Turkish state in its eastern and south-eastern provinces.