Syria’s Homs attacks: Death toll reaches 100

The attack in the Abbasiyeh neighborhood of Homs came hours after one of the deadliest mortar strikes in the heart of the capital

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At least 100 people, mostly civilians, were killed in twin car bomb attacks claimed by jihadists in a pro-regime area of Syria's Homs, an NGO said Wednesday, updating an earlier toll.

The attack on Tuesday was the deadliest of its kind in Homs since the start of Syria's conflict three years ago, and comes as government forces launch fresh offensives in a bid to overrun a handful of besieged rebel quarters in the central city.

Two car bombs exploded in a pro-government neighborhood in the central Syrian city of Homs Tuesday, The Associated Press quoted state media and activists as saying.

The attack in the Abbasiyeh neighborhood of Homs came just hours after one of the deadliest mortar strikes in the heart of the capital, Damascus, killed more than a dozen people, the agency quoted officials and activists as saying.

The official Syrian news agency had said on Tuesday at least 40 people were killed and another 116 wounded in the attack in Abbasiyeh - a predominantly Christian and Alawite area.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll from the double car bombing at 37, including five children. It said more than 80 were wounded.

Such discrepancies in casualty figures are common in Syria in the immediate aftermath of attacks.

Homs has been an opposition stronghold since the beginning of the uprising against President Bashat Assad that erupted in March 2011.

The city, Syria's third largest, has been the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in the civil war. A devastating government siege has squeezed rebels in the last outpost in the Old City, and the remaining fighters there have lashed back with suicide car bombings on pro-Assad areas.

In Damascus, several mortar shells slammed into the predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Shaghour in the morning hours, killing 14 people and wounding 86, Syria's official SANA news agency and state TV reported. The Observatory said 17 people were killed.

It was one of the deadliest mortar attacks in central Damascus since the conflict began in March 2011.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks Tuesday.

The attacks came a day after Assad declared his candidacy for the June 3 presidential elections, a race he is likely to win amid a raging civil war that initially started as an uprising against his rule.

Such attacks are common in Homs and Damascus, and there was no immediate indication that Tuesday's violence was directly related to Assad's announcement.

Also Tuesday, the global chemical weapons watchdog overseeing the destruction of Syria's toxic stockpile said it would send a fact-finding mission to Syria to investigate allegations by rebels and activists of chlorine gas attacks, Reuters news agency reported.

The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said Assad's government had agreed to accept the mission and promised to provide security in areas under its control.

"The mission will carry out its work in the most challenging circumstances," the OPCW said, referring to the three-year-old conflict between Assad's forces and rebels.

It gave no exact date for the mission but said it would take place soon.

Accusations by rebels and Syrian activist of at least three separate chlorine gas attacks by Assad's forces in the last month have exposed the limits of a deal which Assad agreed last year for the destruction of his chemical arsenal.

(AP, Reuters)