Middle East

Syria conflict: IS claims deadly Homs and Damascus blasts

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Photo released by Syrian official news agency shows an injured victim of the triple blast in Sayyida Zeinab Image copyright AP
Image caption Photo released by Syrian state media shows an injured victim of the blasts in Sayyida Zeinab

The Islamic State group says it carried out bomb attacks in the Syrian capital Damascus and the city of Homs, which left at least 140 people dead.

Four blasts in the southern Damascus suburb of Sayyida Zeinab killed at least 83 people, state media say.

Earlier in Homs, 57 people, mainly civilians, were killed in a double car bombing, a monitoring group reports.

Both of Sunday's attacks targeted areas dominated by Islamic minorities reviled by the Sunni Muslim radicals of IS.

The blasts came as President Bashar al-Assad told reporters Syrian refugees should not be scared of returning home.

Mr Assad, who has long been accused of persecuting his own people, said ordinary Syrians who had fled the conflict due to the "standard of living that has been deteriorating drastically" could go back without fear of action by the government.

"We want people to come back to Syria," he told reporters.

More than 250,000 Syrians have been killed in the conflict. Some 11 million others have been forced from their homes, of whom four million have fled abroad - including growing numbers who are making the dangerous journey to Europe.

History of the conflict - how the civil war has spread

Maps of the conflict - the shifting territorial gains

Media captionThe BBC's Alan Johnston: "Homs is a city that's seen much violence... even by its standards, it was a huge attack"

Earlier, US Secretary of State John Kerry said a "provisional agreement" had been reached with Russia on a partial truce.

However he admitted issues remained to be resolved and said he did not expect any immediate change on the ground.

Earlier this month, world powers involved in the crisis in Syria agreed to seek a "cessation of hostilities", but the Friday deadline came and went.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Dozens were killed in the blasts in Sayyida Zeinab

In Damascus on Sunday, the state-run Sana news agency reported least 83 dead and 178 wounded in several explosions in Sayyida Zeinab. It is the location of Syria's holiest Shia Muslim shrine, said to contain the grave of the Prophet Muhammad's granddaughter.

The Amaq news agency, which is linked to IS, said IS militants had detonated a car bomb and then blown up explosive belts.

Muhannad, a local resident, told Reuters news agency he was sleeping in his home when he heard an explosion.

"A man detonated the bomb on his body," he said.

"Another five to seven minutes later, a second man detonated his body bomb there. I was right here looking at him."

The district was hit by suicide attacks last month that left 71 people dead and which IS fighters also said they had carried out.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Images from Homs released by state media showed streets filled with debris and mangled cars
Image copyright AFP
Image caption The neighbourhood in Homs where it happened has been frequently targeted

In Homs, the blasts happened in a predominantly Alawite district, the sect to which President Bashar al-Assad belongs.

One of the early centres of the uprising against President Assad, Homs was once dubbed the "capital of the revolution".

But rebels left the city late last year under a ceasefire deal, leaving the city in government hands.

Sunday's attacks came as warring factions waged fierce battles for the northern city of Aleppo.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group also said that at least 50 Islamic State fighters had been killed in an advance by government troops, backed by Russian air strikes, east of the city in the past 24 hours.

Image copyright BBC/SNAP