A large explosion on Thursday rocked a Syrian government-held coastal town, killing at least 10 people and wounding dozens — an attack that was a stark reminder of the prevailing insecurity in the war-torn country, despite a nearly week-old ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey.
The explosion shook a main street in Jableh, in the coastal Latakia Province, a stronghold of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the heartland of Syria’s Alawites, a Shiite offshoot to which al-Assad’s family also belongs.
It was the first such large-scale bombing since the ceasefire was agreed on last week to prepare the way for peace talks between al-Assad’s government and opposition in Kazakhstan later this month.
Videos from the scene of the blast, which state media said was a car bomb, show extensive damage to shops lining a commercial street near the town’s municipal stadium. Blood pooled on the pavement and several cars lay charred or overturned as fire fighters scrambled to put out fires.
Qusay al-Khalil, the head of the local hospital, said the blast also severely wounded at least 30 people.
“The explosion shook the town,” he told state TV, adding that it prompted a state alert at his hospital.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the civil war, put the death toll at 15, including a son of a leading Syrian military commander.
The monitoring group relies on a network of activists on the ground in Syria.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing.
Although explosions are rare in government-controlled Latakia, Jableh was rocked in May last year by a string of blasts that first hit in a crowded bus station, then outside a hospital receiving the wounded, killing a total of about 120 people.
Those attacks were claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group.
The IS and al-Qaeda-linked Fatah al-Sham Front are not part of the broad truce that the Syrian government and the opposition agreed on.
The ceasefire, which came into effect on Friday last week, has mostly held, but not altogether halted fighting in the country.
Fierce clashes continue in the Barada Valley, a major source of water for Damascus, and in other isolated regions.
Both the government and the rebels have accused the other side of violating the truce.
The UN on Thursday said it has received reports that at least 7,000 people have been displaced by fighting in the Barada Valley.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said about 45,000 people live in the area.
Dujarric also said the UN has rehabilitated and equipped 120 wells in and around Damascus that cover about one-third of the city’s daily water needs.
Syria’s al-Qaeda-linked group in comments published on Wednesday called the ceasefire “humiliating” and said that those who agreed to it made a “big mistake.”
Latakia Province Police Chief Yasser al-Shariti told state TV the explosion hit during rush hour, when government employees and students would have been crowding one of the town’s busiest streets.
Others said the area was packed with shoppers, many coming from or going to a popular vegetable market nearby.
Jableh is also home to thousands of internally displaced Syrians who have sought refuge in the relative calm of the government-controlled town.
According to the new ceasefire, Russia and Iran are tasked with ensuring compliance by the Syrian government and its allies, while Turkey is serving as a guarantor for the rebels.
On Wednesday, Turkey called on Iran to rein in the pro-government forces. Tehran countered by accusing the opposition of dozens of violations and called Turkey’s comments “unconstructive.”
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