15 die as blast hits Syrian regime bastion; opposition seeks end to truce violations

15 die as blast hits Syrian regime bastion; opposition seeks end to truce violations
People gather around damaged cars at the scene of the explosion at a commercial street in the costal town of Jableh, Syria, Thursday. (AP)
Updated 06 January 2017

15 die as blast hits Syrian regime bastion; opposition seeks end to truce violations

15 die as blast hits Syrian regime bastion; opposition seeks end to truce violations

BEIRUT: A large explosion hit a Syrian regime-held coastal town on Thursday, killing at least 10 people and wounding dozens, according to Syria’s state TV — an attack that undermined a nearly week-old and already shaky Russia- and Turkey-brokered cease-fire.
First videos that emerged from the scene in the town of Jableh show charred cars, some turned upside down, and extensive damage to shops lining a commercial street filled with onlookers. The images show pools of blood covering the asphalt as fire engines were scrambling to put out small fires, apparently caused by the explosion.
Qusay Al-Khalil, the head of the local hospital, said the explosion also severely wounded at least 30 people. “The explosion rocked the town,” he told state TV, adding that it prompted a state alert at his hospital.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the civil war, put the death toll at 15. The monitoring group relies on a network of activists on the ground in Syria.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing in Jableh, which lies in the coastal Latakia province, the heartland of Syria’s Alawites, a Shiite offshoot to which President Bashar Assad’s family also belongs.
Daesh and the Al-Qaeda-linked Fatah Al-Sham Front are not part of the broad truce that the Syrian regime and the opposition agreed on last week.
The cease-fire, which came into effect on Dec. 30, has largely held, except for intense fighting in the Barada Valley outside Damascus, a major source of water for the capital. Both the regime and the opposition have accused the other side of violating the truce.
In comments published Wednesday, the Al-Qaeda-linked group in Syria said the cease-fire is “humiliating” and that those who agreed to it made a “big mistake.” The Fatah Al-Sham Front spokesman Hossam Al-Shafei also said major battlefield victories are necessary for a political solution to be reached.
Al-Shafei said in an interview published late Wednesday by Al-Jazeera Net that the current truce only protects Assad and allied Iranian-backed militias.
“The people of (Syria) didn’t offer all these sacrifices to be handed this humiliating agreement,” he was quoted as saying.
Although explosions are rare in the regime-controlled Latakia, Jableh was rocked in May last year by a string of blasts that first hit in a crowded bus station, then outside a hospital receiving the wounded, killing a total of about 120 people. The attacks were claimed by the Daesh group.
Police chief of Latakia province Yasser Al-Shariti told state TV the explosion Thursday hit during rush hour when government employees and students were crowding a main street in Jableh that lies near a sports stadium.
Meanwhile, Syria’s main opposition coalition urged the United Nations Security Council on Thursday to put an “immediate” halt to what it said were regime violations of a shaky cease-fire.
The truce, brokered by regime backer Russia and Turkey, has brought quiet to large parts of Syria since it began on Dec. 30 but is threatened by a regime bid to retake opposition-held Wadi Barada, source of the main water supply to Damascus.
The coalition “condemns attempts by the government of (President) Bashar (Assad), Iran and their terrorist militias to continue with violations and with the war crimes that are being carried out, especially in the Wadi Barada area,” the National Coalition opposition body said.
It called on the Security Council and the guarantors of the truce to “halt attacks immediately and to condemn and punish those who commit violations.”
The cease-fire was meant to pave the way for peace negotiations later this month in the Kazakh capital Astana.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Wednesday warned that cease-fire violation by the Syrian regime and its backers were putting the Kazakhstan talks at risk.
Separately, Iran has hit back at “unconstructive” Turkish allegations that Tehran’s allies were violating a fragile cease-fire in Syria, accusing opposition fighters of breaking the truce.
“The current cease-fire in Syria has been violated repeatedly by the anti-regime armed opposition groups,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said Wednesday.
“(Turkey) should take necessary measures to deal with several instances of cease-fire violation by these groups and at the same time refrain from taking unreal stances and accusing other parties.”
He was responding to the Turkish foreign minister, who on Wednesday accused Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government of violating the cease-fire.
Cavusoglu warned that the “violations” were jeopardizing planned peace talks in Kazakhstan later this month.
Ghasemi criticized the “unconstructive remarks” and said they could “further complicate the current situation” in Syria.
Despite backing opposite sides in the conflict, Ankara and Moscow have worked closely to broker the cease-fire and plan the Astana talks, which Cavusoglu said could take place on Jan. 23.
Regime ally Iran is also involved in organizing the talks, and top official Alaeddin Boroujerdi was in Damascus on Wednesday for talks with Assad.