BEIRUT: A car bomb in Syria’s western Hama province killed 34 and wounded more than 50, Syria’s state news agency SANA said Friday, blaming the attack on rebels fighting forces loyal to President Bashar Assad as ISIS made advances in the east.
It was not immediately clear if the attack was in any way related to the militant Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), which is active in Syria and has seized vast tracts of territory across the border in Iraq.
Nusra Front, which is linked to Al-Qaeda and has been fighting rival group ISIS, is thought to have been behind several bomb attacks in Hama in recent months.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-Assad monitoring group, said 38 were killed and more than 40 wounded in the blast which took place in Hurra, an Alawite village close to the city of Hama.
Assad is from Syria’s Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
The Observatory said a suicide bomber in a truck had blown himelf up, killing mainly civilians, including women and children.
It said there were overnight clashes between government forces and Islamist fighters in the province, as well as bombings by the Syrian army.
SANA described the car bomb as a “terrorist” attack, wording it uses to refer to rebel fighters.
The agency said the Syrian army had also carried out a campaign to eliminate “terrorists” in a number of villages in the Homs province to the south of Hama.
ISIS Friday captured key towns in the east, adjoining territory the Al-Qaeda splinter group has seized in Iraq, the Observatory said.
The Islamists, whose stated aim is to create a strict Islamic state straddling national borders, took over the towns of Muhassan, Albulil and Albuomar, the Observatory reported.
ISIS has also been fighting rival rebel groups in Deir al-Zor, an oil-producing eastern province of Syria devastated by the more than 3-year-old civil war.
The newly captured towns are in an area running along the Euphrates River that links Syria and Iraq and are significant and strategic because they are close to Deir al-Zor’s military airport and the Syrian city of Mayadin, the Observatory’s Rami Abdel-Rahman said.
“If you control Mayadin, this means there are no more important cities except Abu Kamal out of [ISIS] control,” in the province, he said, referring to another town close to the Syria-Iraq border. “They are pushing forward.”
Muhassan, which is just over 100 km from the border with Iraq, is an important position for any attempt to capture the airport, he added.
Deir al-Zor has seen more than two years of fighting between opposition fighters and the Assad government forces and some civilians fled to Iraq to escape it.
A second wave of internecine war among anti-Assad factions has erupted in parts of Syria they control.
ISIS, a rebranding of Al-Qaeda in Iraq which had fought the American forces during the U.S. occupation, has been disowned by the Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahri.
It took neighborhoods of Deir al-Zor city last month from Nusra.
ISIS has a core of foreign fighters and has imposed a strict interpretation of Islamic law on the territories it controls.
Syria’s conflict began in March 2011 as peaceful protests but has turned into civil war, killing at least 160,000 people.
Rebels have been joined by hard-line Islamists, some of them linked to Al-Qaeda, who have become increasingly powerful among opposition forces.
Also Friday, in the northern city of Aleppo, Syrian aircraft dropped two barrel bombs on the outskirts of the Ashrafieh neighborhood, the Observatory said, adding that there were no details on casualties.