A string of suicide bombings near a Shia shrine outside Syria’s capital and in Homs claimed by the militant Islamic State (IS) group killed more than 150 people Sunday, as Washington and Moscow worked to secure a ceasefire.
Near Damascus, a car bombing followed by two consecutive suicide attacks ripped through the area of the shrine of Hazrat Zainab (RA) and killed 96 people according to The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Syria’s official news agency SANA, quoting a police source, said 178 people, including children, were among the wounded.
An AFP reporter said the blasts struck about 400 metres from the revered shrine containing the grave of a granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammed (Peace be upon him).
United Nations special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura “strongly condemns” the attacks, his spokesperson said in a statement.
State television footage from Homs showed emergency workers carrying a charred body on a stretcher past devastated shops and mangled cars and minibuses.
Al-Zahraa has been regularly targeted.
United States (US) Secretary of State John Kerry said a provisional deal had been reached on the terms of a truce in Syria’s brutal five-year conflict, only for the bloodshed to intensify on the ground.
‘Provisional’ ceasefire deal
World powers, which have been pushing for a halt in Syria’s nearly five-year war, had hoped to see a truce take effect on Friday but have struggled to agree on the terms.
On Sunday, Kerry spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at least three times to try to nail down a truce.
“We have reached a provisional agreement, in principle, on the terms of the cessation of hostilities that could begin in the coming days,” Kerry said in Amman after one round of talks.
The Russian foreign ministry later said Lavrov and Kerry held two more telephone conversations and finalised the ceasefire terms to be submitted to their respective presidents.
HNC chief Riad Hijab said any ceasefire must be reached “with international mediation and with guarantees obliging Russia, Iran and their sectarian militias and mercenaries to stop fighting”.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, meanwhile, told Spain’s El Pais newspaper he was “ready” for a ceasefire, but that it should not be exploited by “terrorists”.
Turkey defends shelling Kurds
Moscow is a key architect of the proposed ceasefire, but has shown little sign so far that it plans to rein in the air campaign it began in September in support of Assad’s government.
Regime forces backed by Russian strikes were advancing on Sunday east of Aleppo city against IS, consolidating their control over a stretch of highway from the city to the Kweyris military base.
The Observatory said at least 50 IS fighters had been killed in clashes and Russian strikes since Saturday morning.
Tensions have been rising between Moscow and opposition-backer Ankara, alarmed by both the regime’s Russian-backed advances and a major operation by Kurdish-led forces in Aleppo province.
The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and their Arab partners have seized key territory from rebel forces in Aleppo province, prompting Turkey to shell their positions.
It fears the Kurdish advances are intended to link areas in north and northeast Syria to create a contiguous semi-autonomous Kurdish zone along the Syrian-Turkish border.
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