BEIRUT: A car bomb exploded in a pro-government neighborhood in the Syrian city of Homs Thursday, killing at least seven people, state media and activists said.
The government took full control of Homs last month after rebels withdrew from their strongholds in the Old City as part of a negotiated evacuation deal following a nearly two-year siege by the military. That agreement has largely restored a sense of calm and order to the city, although car bombs still occasionally target government areas.
Thursday’s blast occurred in the Wadi Dahab district and killed at least seven people, the Syrian state news agency said. It added that some 25 others were wounded.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition-aligned group, put the death toll at eight and said six of them were civilians, but it was not clear whether the other two were civilians or pro-government gunmen.
Meanwhile, the Observatory said the Syrian government had released around 530 detainees under a “general amnesty” announced Monday by President Bashar Assad following his re-election. Thousands more prisoners are expected to be released under the presidential pardon.
Observatory director Rami Abdel-Rahman said some of those who have been freed were detained under terrorism laws, while others had been imprisoned for standard criminal offenses. They have been released from prisons in Damascus, Aleppo, the southern city of Deraa and Deir al-Zor in the far east.
The government has issued several small-scale pardons since the uprising began in March 2011.
The latest amnesty appears to be the most sweeping. Still, it is not clear whether it applies to the tens of thousands of anti-government activists, protesters, opposition supporters and their relatives who international rights groups say are imprisoned in the country.
It does, however, cover any foreign fighters, who the government has said will not be prosecuted if they surrender.
One of those released is the daughter of a prominent prisoner of conscience, a human rights lawyer told AFP.
“Raneem Maatuq has been released; I spoke with her a little while ago,” lawyer Michel Shammas told AFP.
Raneem is the daughter of Khalil Maatuq, a prominent lawyer, who is still being held in one of the country’s notorious security branches.
State news agency SANA Wednesday announced the release of 274 people from central Damascus prison, also known as Adra jail.
SANA did not specify when the prisoners were released, but described them as “a first batch” of people released under the amnesty.
Shammas said he did not know whether any other prominent activists had been released.
Meanwhile, lawyer Anwar al-Bunni published on his Facebook page: “This evening, only four women detainees were released from Adra jail, among them Raneem Maatuq.”
Shammas and other rights defenders have said the implementation of the amnesty deal has been lacking in transparency.
Shammas had earlier said: “We have no news of prominent detainees like [journalist] Mazen Darwish,” whose release was also expected.
The amnesty is unprecedented because it extends for the first time to those accused under anti-terror legislation, by which tens of thousands of peaceful dissidents, like Darwish, and armed rebels have been held.