Middle East

Syria crisis: Suicide bomb 'kills dozens' in Hama province

Rebel fighter in Mleiha district of Damascus (21 January 2013)
Image caption Last month, a Russia official admitted the Syrian government might be defeated

A suicide bomber targeting Syrian pro-government forces has killed many people in the central province of Hama, state news agency Sana reports.

Activists say dozens of people - including both pro-regime militiamen and civilians - were killed in the blast in the town of Salmiyeh.

Both Sana and activists also reported deadly fighting in Damascus on Monday.

The ongoing violence has led Russia to send two planes to Beirut to fly home Russians who have fled the conflict.

Russia's emergency situations ministry said more than 100 people were expected to board the aircraft on Tuesday.

It would be the first such airlift since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. Moscow has been a staunch ally.

The UN said recently that more than 60,000 people had been killed since the uprising began in March 2011.

Stalled peace effort

In the latest violence, Sana said a "suicide terrorist" had detonated a car bomb in the centre of Salmiyeh.

The attack caused "many martyrs" among residents, the agency said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based activist group, said the bombing occurred near the headquarters of a pro-regime militia, and that the dead included 30 militiamen.

The observatory, which says its reports are impartial, also said seven people died in the fighting between government and rebel forces in Damascus.

Sana said the violence focused on the Douma district and that several "terrorists" had been killed.

In a separate development on Monday, the chief of the Arab League, Nabil al-Arabi, said UN efforts to help resolve the Syrian crisis had faltered.

"Contacts made by the special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi have so far not yielded a flicker of hope to put this crisis on the exit track," Mr al-Arabi said on Monday at an economic summit in Saudi Arabia.

Earlier this month, talks in Geneva between Mr Brahimi and senior US and Russian diplomats ended without a breakthrough.

The talks had been aimed at discussing how to implement a plan proposed last June by the Action Group for Syria, which called for an immediate cessation of violence and the establishment of a transitional government.

Responding to a question after the meeting, Mr Brahimi said: "If you are asking whether there is a solution around the corner, I'm not sure that is the case."