DAMASCUS/AMSTERDAM: Two car bombs exploded in a pro-government neighborhood in the central Syrian city of Homs Tuesday, killing at least 40 people just hours after one of the deadliest mortar strikes in the heart of Damascus killed 14, officials and state media said.
State news agency SANA said the attack in Homs struck in the Zahra neighborhood, a predominantly Christian and Alawite area. It said at least 40 people were killed and another 116 wounded. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-regime group of activists, put the death toll from the double car bombing at 37, including five children. It said more than 80 people were wounded.
The governor of Homs, Talal Barazi, told AFP that the death toll stood at 45, but said the attack involved a car bomb, followed by a rebel rocket strike.
“The rocket fell about half an hour after the bombing on the same area, where there was a crowd of people” trying to help those wounded in the blast, he said.
In Damascus, several mortar bombs slammed into the predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Shaghour in the morning hours, killing 14 people and wounding 86 people, state media said.
The Observatory said 19 people were killed, 14 of whom were minors. It was one of the deadliest mortar attacks in central Damascus since the conflict began in March 2011.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks.
SANA blamed the attacks on terrorists, a term used by Assad’s government for rebels.
The attacks came a day after President Bashar Assad declared his candidacy for the June 3 presidential elections, a race he is likely to win amid a raging civil war that initially started as an uprising against his rule.
In Aleppo, a tenuous agreement reportedly concluded between the government and rebel groups active in the city appeared to be holding, with minor violations.
The agreement, which was announced Monday, stipulated an end to the government’s barrel bomb attacks on civilian areas, in exchange for the rebels halting their cutoff of electricity supplies to regime-held areas.
Activists in the city said 16 barrel bombs fell on areas of Aleppo and the northern part of the province, but caused no fatalities. Separate airstrikes on three villages killed at least eight people, however.
Also Tuesday, the international chemical weapons watchdog said it would send a team to Syria to investigate recent allegations about the use of chlorine gas in the war.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said in a statement that the government in Damascus has agreed to the mission, and will provide security in areas under its control. The team is expected to depart for Syria soon.
“The mission will carry out its work in the most challenging circumstances,” the OPCW said, referring to the 3-year-old conflict between Assad’s forces and rebels.
Syrian opposition forces have accused the government of attacking rebel-held areas with chlorine gas several times in recent months. Syria denies the allegations.
A joint U.N.-OPCW mission is already in the process of eliminating Syria’s chemicals stockpile and has removed more than 90 percent of the declared chemical stockpile.
While chlorine was first deployed militarily in World War I, it is no longer officially considered a warfare agent and was not among the chemicals declared by Syria when it joined the chemical weapons treaty. The U.K. daily the Telegraph, meanwhile, published a report that accused the regime of using chlorine and ammonia in the attacks in northern Syria.
The newspaper said it relied on experts who conducted an independent test on materials gathered from the sites of the attacks.
In the northern province of Raqqa, activists told the Observatory that the Al-Qaeda splinter group the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) carried out a series of public summary executions.
In New York, the U.N. rejected calls for it to deliver humanitarian aid across borders into Syria without the approval of the government in Damascus, saying such operations would be possible only under a stronger U.N. Security Council resolution.
The stance came in response to a letter by dozens of top lawyers from around the world who argued there was no legal barrier for the world body to carry out cross-border aid deliveries or support other organizations to do the same.
Separately, an official from the opposition-in-exile National Coalition said the group was unable to supply urgently needed humanitarian aid to people living in rebel-held areas, due to a lack of resources.
Badr Jamous, speaking in Gaziantep, Turkey, said the Coalition favored seeing the provisional government headed by Ahmad Tohme move its operations to inside the country.
Jamous, the group’s secretary-general, estimated the move would require from between six to eight months.