Middle East

Syria crisis: Car bombings 'kill 25' in Homs

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Media captionThe bombs caused widespread damage to streets in the Karam al-Luz district

Two car bombs have exploded in the Syrian city of Homs, killing at least 25 people and wounding scores more, state news agency Sana says.

The report blamed "terrorists" for the blasts, half an hour apart, in the Karam al-Luz district.

In a separate development, the rebel-held town of Rankous, north of Damascus, is reported to have fallen to government forces.

State TV said the final battle to capture Rankous lasted 18 hours.

In a live report from the strategically important town, it said that the government victory came after weeks of intense fighting.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights - a UK-based activist group - said rebel fighters had withdrawn from Rankous at the request of residents after a truce was agreed.

The observatory - which has a network of informants on the ground - said the truce was negotiated by local officials.

The group also reported the bombings in Homs, saying they had been carried out in an area that is mostly populate by Alawites - the sect to which President Bashar al-Assad belongs.

Sana reported: "Twenty-five people fell as martyrs, including women and children, and more than 107 others were wounded after the explosion of the two car bombs."

Over the past three years more than 100,000 Syrians have died in the war between President Assad's forces and those opposed to his rule.

The civil war has destroyed whole neighbourhoods and forced more than nine million people from their homes.

No 'sweeping victory'

The army is now pursuing "terrorists" who fled the Rankous area "to surrounding mountains", Al-Manar News reported. Al-Manar is the station of the Lebanese Hezbollah movement, which is allied to the Assad government.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Local people and emergency services rushed to help survivors of the blasts in Homs
Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Syrian government blamed the bombs on "terrorists" - a name it often uses for rebels
Image copyright AP
Image caption The rebels have strongly resisted a government offensive launched in mid-November to oust them from the Qalamoun mountains near the Lebanese border
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption As fighting continues across Syria, the UN has warned of a "dire" humanitarian situation in Aleppo, warning of acute shortages of food, water and medicine

But the BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut says that television footage of the town showed little to resemble the kind of massive destruction inflicted on other towns and villages that have changed hands after a struggle for control.

Our correspondent says that the restoration of state control has been hailed by official media analysts as the completion of the government's year-long campaign to control the hilly Qalamoun area that runs along the Lebanese border.

President Assad's forces have been backed by fighters from the militant Lebanese Shia Hezbollah movement in the Qalamoun region since November, and have now captured most of the border area with Lebanon.

The six-month battle has forced tens of thousands of Syrians to flee to safety in Lebanon.

The capture of Rankous and other towns and villages has cut a major supply route for weapons and fighters into the country from eastern Lebanon, officials say.

However, activists have reported continued shelling and clashes in areas near the town.

Our correspondent says that the government's recent advances in Qalamoun, including the capture of the town of Yabroud last month, have undoubtedly damaged the rebel effort in a highly strategic area.

Elsewhere, areas held by the rebels around Damascus and in Aleppo are also under pressure, although they have staged a small advance in the far north-west close to the Turkish border, and have been active in the far south too.

Our correspondent says there will be no prospect of a sweeping and rapid overall victory for the government despite Wednesday's capture of Rankous.

However, Mr Assad has been quoted as saying he believes the bulk of the fighting will be finished by the end of this year.

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