HOMS, Syria – At least 24 people died on Tuesday in a bomb attack claimed by the Islamic State in Homs, a Syrian city controlled by the government.
One of the two explosions was caused by a car bomb targeting a security point, while the other was caused by an explosive belt set off by a suicide bomber, according to state media.
Homs Governor Talal Barazi said 17 people were in hospital, one of them critically injured. Before the governor’s declaration, Syrian state TV had reported that there had been 22 fatal victims and over 100 people injured. Later, Islamic State said in a statement that its suicide bombers had killed at least 30 people.
The explosions occurred in a district where most people identify themselves as part of the Alawite sect, a minority group President Bashar al-Assad also belongs to. The Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shiite Islam. Among the people killed, there were included 15 members of government forces and pro-government fighters.
“We know we are targets for terrorists, especially now the (Syrian) army is advancing and local reconciliation agreements are being implemented,” Homs Governor Talal Barazi told Reuters by telephone.
According to footage from the Syrian state television, several shops and apartments were seriously damaged around the site of the explosion in the Zahra neighborhood, in a district that has been frequently attacked in the past few months.
The Syrian government has been intensifying attacks on militants across the country, with extensive support of Russian air strikes since four months ago. Regarding Islamic State, which controls large areas of central and eastern Syria, the group has been battling with the Syrian army and allied forces in areas to the east and southeast of Homs. The government recently took back important villages such as Maheen 80 Km (50 miles) southeast of the city.
State broadcaster SANA reported that since Monday, the Syrian army alongside its allies have taken back the villages of Ain Hanash, Qatar and Tal Hataabaat –which are located north of Homs in Aleppo province. These small villages lie to the south of al-Bab town, which represents an important stronghold to ISIS.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the first bomber started shouting curses about Barazi, attracting a crowd of security officials before he blew up his vehicle. The monitoring group, which has a network of reporters across Syria, said that fighting continues on the outskirts of Ain Hanash.
The attacks came three days before peace talks, led by the United Nations, are set to start in Geneva on Friday. The talks are expected to help put an end to the conflict by calling for cease-fires, a new constitution and elections in a year and a half. The Syrian civil war began in 2011 as part of a peaceful uprising against Assad’s administration that led to a large-scale and complicated unrest.