Middle East

Syria: Deraa bombings 'kill soldiers'

Members of the Free Syrian Army fighting in Aleppo
Image caption Opposition leaders are calling for more arms for Syrian rebels

At least 20 soldiers have been killed in twin explosions in the southern Syrian city of Deraa, activists report.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said two cars packed with explosives were detonated at a military camp, killing and wounding "dozens".

Syrian state media said the two car bombs resulted in "victims and material damage", but did not give details.

Meanwhile, Syrian opposition groups are continuing negotiations in Doha about a possible merger.

One of the biggest groups, the Syrian National Council (SNC), has yet to decide whether it will join a proposed unified group, provisionally called the Syrian National Initiative.

On Friday the SNC elected its new leader, a Christian and former communist, George Sabra.

The initiative idea is supported by the US and other international backers.

Targeted attacks

No group has claimed responsibility for the bombings in Deraa, but car bombs targeting the military have been a regular tactic of the various rebel groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad's army.

In the past, Islamist groups have claimed responsibility for similar attacks, as fighting across the country has continued.

An activist in Deraa who gave his name as Mazn told the BBC the explosions appeared to have been targeted attacks, aimed at army and secret police in an area away from civilian homes.

Image caption New SNC leader George Sabra is cool on plans to merge with other opposition groups

"Two places in particular were targeted. One was a club for army and secret police," he said.

"There have been clashes since the explosions and there are a lot of secret police on the streets and snipers on buildings."

Weapons call

Following his appointment as SNC head, Mr Sabra called on the international community to provide the rebel fighters with weapons.

But he also cast doubt on whether the SNC would agree to join the proposed new initiative.

He told the BBC he believed the current talks with other opposition groups in Doha were merely the beginning of a process.

The BBC's Jim Muir, in Doha, says the SNC wants to propose significant amendments and is clearly reluctant to sign up to a new body that might spell its own demise.

Talks are expected to continue for some time, he says.

That will disappoint backers of the new initiative, including the UK and the US, who would like to see a unified Syrian opposition emerging as a credible alternative to President Assad's government.