Middle East

Syria conflict: Car bomb kills 11 in government-held town

Aftermath of blast in Jableh, Syria (5 January 2017) Image copyright AP
Image caption The blast in Jableh left cars mangled and damaged shops

A car bomb attack has killed at least 11 civilians in a Syrian government-held coastal town, state media report.

Thirty-five others were injured by the blast in a commercial area crowded with people near the municipal stadium in Jableh, the Sana news agency said.

Three was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing.

Last May, 45 people died in attacks in the town claimed by so-called Islamic State (IS) that targeted President Bashar Assad's minority Alawite sect.

Footage from the scene of Thursday's attack broadcast by state television showed charred, mangled cars, damage to shops, and pools of blood on the road.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, put the death toll at 15.

The bombing happened despite a week-old nationwide truce, which excludes IS and the rival jihadist group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham - known as al-Nusra Front until it broke off formal ties with al-Qaeda in July - as well as the Syrian Kurdish Popular Protection Units (YPG) militia.

The initiative, negotiated by Turkey and Russia, is aimed at restarting peace talks in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, later this month.

However, several rebel groups said on Tuesday that they were halting preparations for the talks, complaining of major breaches of the truce by the government.

Water crisis

On Thursday, UN humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland said there remained "tremendous dramas" for the country's civilian population, especially in Damascus were 5.5 million people have had their water supplies cut or severely reduced.

Rebel and government officials have accused each other of cutting the flow of water from Wadi Barada, a valley in the hills north-west of the capital that is the location of several springs.

Image copyright AP
Image caption The truce has been threatened by a government bid to retake rebel-held Wadi Barada

Troops and Iranian-backed militiamen are trying to recapture the valley. The government says fighters from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham are present there - something rebel groups have denied.

Mr Egeland said the consequences for the population were "dramatic", with emergency efforts in place to supply water to schools, hospitals and bakeries.

He also said the government had denied the UN's requests for access for aid convoys for five of 21 locations they planned to visit in January.

Turkey and Russia, he added, had pledged to facilitate humanitarian access across the country as part of the truce.

The UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, meanwhile said the Astana talks should aim to consolidate the truce and pave the way for UN-backed negotiations in Geneva in February.

He said the UN's new Secretary General, Antionio Gutteres, had been involved in internal "brainstorming" on the Syria crisis.

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