A car bombing in a rebel-held north-western town in Syria killed at least 15 people and wounded dozens on Monday, setting cars on fire and sending people running in panic, two activist groups said.
The bomb went off at a market in the town of Darkoush in Idlib province, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees. The marketplace was busy with shoppers buying on the eve of Eid al-Adha, one of the most important Muslims holidays.
The two groups, which rely on a network of activists on the ground, differed on the death toll, which is often the case in the immediate aftermath of big attacks. The Observatory said 27 people died while the Committees said at least 15 were killed.
An amateur video posted on the LCC’s Facebook page showed several cars on fire in a street full of debris. People are seen running in panic as smoke billowed from the area, and several shops and apartment buildings appear heavily damaged in the blast. Another video shows men carrying two bodies and placing them in a blanket. The videos appeared genuine and corresponded to other AP reporting on the events depicted.
Car bombs are becoming more common in Syria’s civil war, now in its third year. The conflict has killed more than 100,000 people.
On Sunday, two car bombs exploded near the state TV building in Damascus. The SANA news agency said the TV’s headquarters in Umayyad Square was damaged in the blast, but there was no word on casualties.
The Damascus attack came just hours after gunmen abducted six Red Cross workers and a Syrian Red Crescent volunteer after stopping their convoy early Sunday in north-western Syria, a spokesman said, in the latest high-profile kidnapping in the country’s civil war.
Much of the countryside in Idlib province, as well as the rest of northern Syria, has fallen over the past year into the hands of rebels, many of them Islamic extremists, and kidnappings have become rife, particularly of aid workers and foreign journalists.
The intensity of the conflict has not abated in the past two weeks, even as inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons press on with their work to destroy the country’s chemical weapons stockpile.
On Friday, the watchdog agency working to eliminate chemical weapons around the world won the Nobel Peace Prize in a powerful endorsement of its Syria mission.
The mission stems from a deadly Aug. 21 attack on opposition-held suburbs of Damascus in which the U.N. determined the nerve agent sarin was used. Hundreds of people were killed, including many children in the attack. The U.S. and Western allies say the Syrian government was responsible, while Damascus blames the rebels.
Monday also marks the date that Syria formally joins the OPCW, 30 days after submitting its application at the United Nations.
In an interview with the Lebanese Al-Akbar daily, Syrian President Bashar Assad was quoted Monday as saying that his country stopped manufacturing chemical agents in 1997 because they became an “outdated deterrent” weapon and has since concentrated on its missile capabilities.
Damascus is believed to have thousands of long-range missiles that can reach targets almost anywhere inside archenemy Israel.
In the interview, Mr. Assad said that ridding Syria of its chemical weapons would present “neither a moral nor a political loss.”
“Developing Syria’s missile deterrent force that can be used from the first moments of war ended the necessity of chemical weapons,’ Mr. Assad as saying.
Asked about the OPCW getting the Nobel prize, Mr. Assad attempted a joke, saying, “this prize should have been mine.”
Meanwhile in London, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the U.N-Arab League envoy for Syria said an international conference to set up a Syrian transitional government must be organized urgently and held as soon as possible.
Mr. Kerry said a transitional government is urgently needed in Syria and that it was imperative to get the so-called “Geneva II” conference organized by a mid-November target the U.N. has set.
Mr. Kerry said Mr. Assad “has lost the legitimacy to be able to be a cohesive force that could bring people together.”
In other developments, Syrians lost power Monday in several regions in the country’s center as well as areas on the Mediterranean coast but there was no indication if the power cut was related to the conflict or result of sabotage.
SANA quoted Minister of Electricity Imad Khamis as saying that a malfunction at a power station had caused the outage. Khamis said maintenance work was underway and that power will gradually return in the coming hours.