Bombs in Syrian cities leave 140 dead ahead of ceasefire

Bombings claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group in the Syrian cities of Damascus and Homs have killed at least 140 people, as world powers chase an elusive ceasefire.

Two car bombs in the central city of Homs killed at least 57 people and wounded dozens more. Picture: AFP/Getty

The blasts came as secretary of state John Kerry said that a “provisional agreement” has been reached on a cessation of hostilities that could begin in the next few days. But he acknowledged that it’s not finalised and all parties might not automatically comply.

A series of blasts ripped through the Sayyida Zeinab suburb of Damascus, killing at least 83 people and wounding more than 170, the official Sana news agency said. It was reported the blasts were caused by a car bomb and two suicide bombers.

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Two car bombs in the central city of Homs killed at least 57 people and wounded dozens.

Syrian TV footage from Homs showed streets filled with debris and mangled cars.

IS militants dug in on the outskirts of the two cities and have repeatedly targeted Shiites.

The deadly blasts may strengthen the government’s argument that it should press ahead with a major offensive in the north of the country, where troops backed by Russian airstrikes are close to sealing off Aleppo, once Syria’s largest city and commercial hub. Syrian insurgents, including Western-backed rebels, seized several neighbourhoods in 2012.

The heavy fighting near Aleppo led to collapse of peace talks earlier this month. World powers later agreed on a “cessation of hostilities” to begin within a week, but the deadline passed with no letup in the fighting. Mr Kerry has since reached out to his Russian counterpart, and during a visit to Jordan yesterday, said they had struck a “provisional agreement” and must now reach out to the opposing sides on the ground.

Russia is a key ally of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s government, while the US backs some of the rebels fighting to overthrow him.

Mr Kerry declined to go into the details of the agreement, saying it “is not yet done”.

“The modalities for a cessation of hostilities are now being completed,” he said, adding that it was “possible over the course of these next hours.”

Assad meanwhile said his government was ready to take part in a truce as long as it is not used by militants to reinforce their positions.