Middle East

Syria crisis: Latakia blast rocks Assad stronghold

Aftermath of car bomb explosion in Latakia (2 September 2015) Image copyright AFP
Image caption Activists said it was the biggest car bomb attack in Latakia since the war began in 2011

At least 10 people have been killed in a bomb attack in the Syrian city of Latakia, a key stronghold of President Bashar al-Assad, state media report.

Twenty-five others were injured when a van filled with explosives blew up in front of a school on the outskirts of the city, the Sana news agency said.

State television aired footage of charred cars with blown-out windows.

Latakia has largely escaped the conflict that has devastated most of Syria and left 250,000 people dead.

But a rebel alliance that includes al-Qaeda's local affiliate, al-Nusra Front, has been advancing on the city and within its surrounding province after driving government forces out of much of neighbouring Idlib province earlier this year.

'Rare' bombing

Sana reported that the bomb was detonated at 12:00 (09:00) on Wednesday, outside Imad Ali school in Hamam square, on the northern edges of Latakia.

It also said that on Tuesday evening security forces had intercepted two cars loaded with explosives which "terrorists were trying to sneak into Latakia".

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the UK-based monitoring group, said Wednesday's blast was "the biggest car bomb attack in Latakia since the war began" in 2011.

"This is rare for Latakia city, which is usually hit by rockets," its director, Rami Abdul Rahman, told the AFP news agency.

Last month, six people were killed in the city by shellfire and rebels forces reached the edge of the coastal mountains to the east where Mr Assad's ancestral village of Qardaha is located.

The rebel advance in the north-eastern heartland of his Alawite sect is the latest in a series of setbacks for the president.

In July, he acknowledged the army faced a manpower shortage and had withdrawn from some areas in order to defend those he considered most significant.