A SUICIDE bomber driving a truck packed with 1.5 tonnes of explosives has killed at least 31 people and wounded dozens in the Syrian city of Hama.
The man blew himself up yesterday inside the vehicle on a busy road on the outskirts of the city in central Syria, the official Sana news agency said.
It blamed “terrorists”, the term it uses to describe rebel forces trying to topple president Bashar al-Assad.
The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack targeted an army checkpoint but most of the dead were civilians.
According to the Observatory, the suicide bomber was from the Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate that has frequently used suicide bombers to attack military and political targets. Anti-government forces also used a car bomb a day earlier to attack a checkpoint on the outskirts of Damascus. Clashes erupted after the blast and continued yesterday evening.
Rebels said they seized the first checkpoint and were fighting to capture a second. The checkpoints, to the south-east of the capital, sit between the rebel-held suburb of Mleiha and the government-held suburb of Jaramana.
“These checkpoints are the fortress between us and the next air force defence site,” said Nidal, a rebel speaking by Skype. “If we can destroy it we can liberate the base.”
Syrian military jets have pounded nearby rebel-held areas. Rebels hold suburbs ringing the capital but have yet to make deep inroads into the capital, due to an army blockade.
Doctors in one suburb to the west of Damascus, Mouadamiya, have reported an increasing number of deaths due to malnutrition.
A fighter in the eastern suburbs said government forces had blocked the main entry point for food and supplies on Friday.
Meanwhile, an international conference aimed at ending Syria’s civil war will be held in Geneva in late November, the head of the Arab League said at the weekend, after weeks of diplomacy to bring the opposing sides to the negotiating table.
League chief Nabil Elaraby said the Geneva conference, which the US and Russia have been trying to convene for months, would be held on 23 and 24 November.
The gathering aims to broker a political compromise to end the fighting in a conflict that has killed more than 100,000 people, devastated the nation’s economy and forced some two million Syrians to seek refuge abroad.
Despite Mr Elaraby’s remarks at the league headquarters in Cairo, it remains unclear whether the warring sides in the conflict are ready to sit down together. Even Mr Elaraby, who spoke to reporters along with Arab League-UN envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, acknowledged that the proposed conference still faces “many difficulties.”
The main Western-backed opposition umbrella group, the Syrian National Coalition, is scheduled to hold a meeting on 1 November to decide whether or not to attend a Geneva conference.
One of the most prominent factions within the coalition, the Syrian National Council, has publicly opposed taking part in peace talks with the regime.