Middle East

Syria minibus blast: Mine 'kills 21' in Deraa province


At least 21 people have been killed by an explosion that struck a minibus in southern Syria, activists say.

Six women and four children were among those who died when the vehicle hit a landmine in the town of Nawa, in the province of Deraa, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

Opposition activists blamed forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

The area is in rebel-held territory, but is close to the Tal al-Jumaa army base, which is currently under siege.

The UN says more than 100,000 people have been killed in the fighting that has ravaged Syria for two-and-a-half years - with civilians often in the firing line.

The Syrian Observatory also reported on Wednesday that at least 41 people had been killed in violent clashes between Kurdish fighters and al-Qaeda-affiliated rebels in the oil-rich north-eastern province of Hassaka.

Twenty-nine of the dead were from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and al-Nusra Front, while the others were Kurdish fighters.

The group also said government forces had been shelling rebel-held areas in Daraa province and the outskirts of the capital, Damascus, and carried out air raids in Hama and Idlib provinces.

ISIS rebels were also involved in an incident on the border with Turkey, close to the Syrian town of Azaz. The Turkish army said it fired four artillery shells at ISIS positions in response to a mortar round that landed close to a military post inside Turkey.

Chemical weapons destroyed

In a separate development, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said it had established a joint mission with the UN to "achieve the timely elimination of the Syrian chemical weapons programme in the safest and most secure manner possible".

Sigrid Kaag had been appointed special co-ordinator for the OPCW-UN Joint Mission in Syria, a statement added.

Syria acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and agreed to the destruction of its chemical weapons arsenal after hundreds of people were killed on 21 August, when rockets filled with the nerve agent sarin were fired at several suburbs of Damascus.

The Syrian government and opposition blame each other for the attack.

Earlier on Wednesday, the OPCW said its inspectors had "conducted verification activities" at a total of 11 sites in Syria identified by the government as part of its chemical weapons programme.

Activities had also included "critical equipment destruction at six sites as well as some Category 3 weapons destruction", a statement added.

Unfilled munitions and devices, and any other equipment designed to aid in the deployment of chemical weapons, fall into Category 3.