'15 dead' in huge blast in northwest Syria

It wasn’t clear what the cause of the explosion was. (File/AFP)
Updated 24 April 2019
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'15 dead' in huge blast in northwest Syria

  • It was not clear if the cause of the blast near the market in the town of Jisr Al-Shughur was a car bomb, or a vehicle carrying explosives
  • All except one were civillians

BEIRUT: A powerful explosion Wednesday killed 15 people including more than a dozen civilians in militant-held northwest Syria, a war monitor said, as rescuers searched for people trapped under the rubble.
An AFP reporter at the scene saw a building of at least four storeys that had collapsed in the town of Jisr al-Shughur in Idlib, a region controlled by Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate.
One opposite had partially caved in while surrounding buildings appeared on the verge of collapse.
A civil defence worker eased himself under a massive slab of fallen concrete to search for victims, as three colleagues crouched by his side to help.
Thirteen civilians were among those killed in the blast, the cause of which was not immediately clear, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group.
"The explosion hit next to the market," killing 15 people including the daughter of a Turkestani fighter, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.
He earlier said the explosion could have been the result of a car bomb or a vehicle carrying explosives that detonated.
But bystanders and the head of the local civil defence unit, Abdelwahab al-Abdu, said they did not know what caused it.
Abdu said 13 civilians had died in "an explosion of unknown origin".
Abu Ammar, a father of two, told AFP he felt the "huge" blast from his home about 50 metres (yards) away.
"We ran to the place of the explosion and saw the rescue teams trying to pull out the wounded," he said.
There were "people still alive under the rubble, and lots of body parts on the ground."
Rescue personnel were seen directing bulldozers to clear rubble from a road.
The Idlib region is under the administrative control of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which is dominated by a faction previously known as Al-Nusra Front before renouncing its ties to Al-Qaeda.
The Turkestan Islamic Party, a group of foreign jihadists from the ethnic Uighur Muslim minority, also has a large presence in Jisr al-Shughur.
The Daesh group has sleeper cells in the wider Idlib region.
Idlib has since September been protected from a massive regime offensive by a fragile ceasefire deal signed by Damascus ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey.
But the region of some three million people has come under increasing bombardment since HTS took full control of it in January.
On Tuesday, regime shelling killed seven civilians, including four children, in the town of Khan Sheikhun.
Increased regime shelling on Khan Sheikhun has sparked one of the largest waves of displacement since the September deal.
Syria's war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since the conflict began with the repression of anti-government protests in 2011.


US military to present several options to Trump on Iran

Updated 2 min 34 sec ago

US military to present several options to Trump on Iran

  • Donald Trump will also be warned that military action against the Islamic Republic could escalate into war
  • The US response could involve military, political and economic actions

WASHINGTON: The Pentagon will present a broad range of military options to President Donald Trump on Friday as he considers how to respond to what administration officials say was an unprecedented Iranian attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry.
In a White House meeting, the president will be presented with a list of potential airstrike targets inside Iran, among other possible responses, and he also will be warned that military action against the Islamic Republic could escalate into war, according to US officials familiar with the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The national security meeting will likely be the first opportunity for a decision on how the US should respond to the attack on a key Middle East ally. Any decision may depend on what kind of evidence the US and Saudi investigators are able to provide proving that the cruise missile and drone strike was launched by Iran, as a number of officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have asserted.
Iran has denied involvement and warned the US that any attack will spark an “all-out war” with immediate retaliation from Tehran.
Both Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence have condemned the attack on Saudi oil facilities as “an act of war.” Pence said Trump will “review the facts, and he’ll make a decision about next steps. But the American people can be confident that the United States of America is going to defend our interest in the region, and we’re going to stand with our allies.”
The US response could involve military, political and economic actions, and the military options could range from no action at all to airstrikes or less visible moves such as cyberattacks. One likely move would be for the US to provide additional military support to help Saudi Arabia defend itself from attacks from the north, since most of its defenses have focused on threats from Houthis in Yemen to the south.
Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, emphasized to a small number of journalists traveling with him Monday that the question of whether the US responds is a “political judgment” and not for the military.
“It is my job to provide military options to the president should he decide to respond with military force,” Dunford said.
Trump will want “a full range of options,” he said. “In the Middle East, of course, we have military forces there and we do a lot of planning and we have a lot of options.”
US Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Michigan, said in an interview Thursday that if Trump “chooses an option that involves a significant military strike on Iran that, given the current climate between the US and Iran, there is a possibility that it could escalate into a medium to large-scale war, I believe the president should come to Congress.”
Slotkin, a former top Middle East policy adviser for the Pentagon, said she hopes Trump considers a broad range of options, including the most basic choice, which would be to place more forces and defensive military equipment in and around Saudi Arabia to help increase security.
A forensic team from US Central Command is pouring over evidence from cruise missile and drone debris, but the Pentagon said the assessment is not finished. Officials are trying to determine if they can get navigational information from the debris that could provide hard evidence that the strikes came from Iran.
Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said Thursday that the US has a high level of confidence that officials will be able to accurately determine exactly who launched the attacks last weekend.
US officials were unwilling to predict what kind of response Trump will choose. In June, after Iran shot down an American surveillance drone, Trump initially endorsed a retaliatory military strike then abruptly called it off because he said it would have killed dozens of Iranians. The decision underscores the president’s long-held reluctance to embroil the country in another war in the Middle East.
Instead, Trump opted to have US military cyber forces carry out a strike against military computer systems used by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard to control rocket and missile launchers, according to US officials.