Ramallah :A string of suicide blasts and raids claimed by the Islamic State group killed more than 220 people in southern Syria, in one of the jihadists’ deadliest ever assaults in the country.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attacks hit several areas of the largely government-held southern province of Sweida, where IS retains a presence in a northeastern desert region.
The bloodshed came almost a week into a Russia-backed regime campaign to oust IS fighters from a holdout in a neighbouring province of the country’s south.
IS claimed responsibility for the violence, saying “soldiers of the caliphate” attacked Syrian government positions and security outposts in Sweida city, then detonated explosive belts.
The Britain-based Observatory said four suicide bombers targeted Sweida city while others hit small villages to the north and east and shot residents in their homes.
At least 221 people were killed, including 127 civilians, the Observatory said.
The remaining 94 dead were pro-regime fighters, mostly residents who took up arms to defend their homes, it said.
The overwhelming majority of the dead “were in (Sweida’s) northern countryside, where the bodies of civilians executed inside their homes were found,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
Sweida, whose residents are mostly from the Druze minority, has been relatively insulated from the war that has ravaged the rest of the country since 2011.
“It’s the bloodiest death toll in Sweida province since the start of the war” and one of the deadliest ever IS attacks in Syria, the Observatory chief said.
He said regime forces eventually ousted IS from several villages its fighters had seized and put an end to the attacks.
“Some residents who fled the attacks on their villages are returning and finding people dead in their homes,” Abdel Rahman said.
At least 38 IS fighters were also killed, including the suicide attackers.
State media confirmed the attacks had killed and wounded people in Sweida city and villages to the north and east but did not give a specific toll.
“Today’s crime shows that countries supporting terrorism are trying to breathe life back into the terrorist organisation to keep it as a card in their hand that they will use to achieve political gains,” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as he received Russia’s envoy to Syria Alexander Lavrentiev.
“These attempts will only succeed in… shedding more innocent blood,” he added, in comments carried on his social media accounts.
Omar, a resident of Sweida city, told AFP explosions began rocking the city around 5:30 am local time (0230 GMT).
“The blast was sudden and unexpected. Never in its history has Sweida seen such a tough day,” he told AFP.
State news agency SANA published images from the city of the attack’s aftermath, showing a victim’s remains sprawled on a staircase near a damaged wall.
Abandoned shoes lay in the middle of the road among fruit that had spilt out of cartons.
An eyewitness said Sweida’s national hospital was “packed”.
He said he saw “people bringing in a lot of wounded in their own private cars.. Others were coming to the hospital to ask if loved ones they had lost track of were there”.
India asks China to be sensitive to its concerns
New Delhi: Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale held talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and discussed the progress in bilateral ties since the Wuhan summit last year and said both sides were implementing the decisions in a manner in which “we are sensitive to each other’s concerns”.
His meeting with Wang, who is also the State Councillor, a high-level post in the hierarchy of the ruling Communist Party of China, took place as both the countries grappled with a host of issues, including Beijing’s continued attempts block efforts list Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Muhammed chief Masood Azhar as global terrorist by the United Nations.
In his opening remarks, Gokhale said it has been year since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping met at the Chinese city of Wuhan where the two leaders reached many understandings.
He said both sides were making efforts to implement the understandings reached at the Wuhan meeting.
“As your excellency said we will work together with the Chinese side to deepen understanding to strengthen trust to implement the decisions that are taken by leaders and to do it in a manner in which we are sensitive to each other’s concerns,” he said.
He also referred to the “brisk” political exchanges since the Wuhan summit, including Wang’s visit to New Delhi to launch people to people mechanism and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is “looking forward to come to China this year”.
Gokhale, who arrived in Beijing on Sunday is also scheduled to hold detailed talks with Chinese vice foreign minister Kong Xuanyou on Monday.
In his opening remarks, Wang said China and India are two emerging market countries besides neighbours and “each other’s strategic partners.”
“In that sense, it is important for the two countries to work together to increase strategic communication, deepen mutual political trust and strengthen strategic cooperation on international and regional issues.
“Given that it is timely and important for you to have regular consultations with the Chinese side,” he said.
One of the issues that was expected to figure during this round talk was China’s continued attempts block efforts list JeM chief Azhar as global terrorist by the UN.
China blocked Azhar’s designation for the fourth-time recently stalling efforts by the United States, the United Kingdom, France move at the 1267 UN counter terrorism committee following the February Pulwama terrorist attack. It was the first technical hold put up by China post Wuhan summit.
Also, India continues to have strong reservations to join China’s mega Belt and Road Initiative due to its objections over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as it is being laid through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
Both the issues have become major irritants in the bilateral ties.
In order to counter China’s technical hold in the 1267 committee, the US, the UK and France have taken the Azhar issue to the UN Security Council, which Beijing firmly opposed, saying that it should be resolved by the UN’s 1267 Sanctions Committee.
China also said the issue moved towards settlement and accused the US of attempting to scuttling its resolution.
Gokhale’s visit also coincides with China holding its biggest international event, the second Belt and Road Forum next week to showcase its BRI projects.
India, like the first BRF held in 2017, is reportedly not attending its second edition being held here from April 25-27.
Foreign Minister Wang said on Friday that differences over the BRI would not come in the way of the development of India-China relations and China is preparing for a Wuhan-style summit meeting this year.
He also said the CPEC is an economic project and has nothing to do with the sovereignty issues.
“One of our differences is how to look at the BRI. The Indian side has their concerns. We understand that and that is why we have stated clearly on many occasions that the BRI including the CPEC is only an economic initiative and it does not target any third country and has nothing to do with the sovereign and territorial disputes left from history between any two countries,” he said.
Interpol offers Lanka help to probe Easter blasts
Colombo: The Interpol on Monday said it is ready to offer full support to the Sri Lankan authorities in investigating the country’s deadliest terror attack that killed 290 people in a series of eight blasts that tore through churches and luxury hotels in the country.
Interpol Secretary General Jurgen Stock in a Twitter message said, “Interpol strongly condemns the horrific attacks and has offered its full support to the investigation being carried out by national authorities.” Paris-based Interpol is an organisation which facilitates worldwide police cooperation. Stock said Interpol can deploy an Incident Response Team at the request of a member country to provide on-site support during a crisis situation.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the victims,” he tweeted. Eight coordinated explosions targeted Easter worshippers and high end hotels popular with international guests.
The blasts targeted St Anthony’s Church in Colombo, St Sebastian’s Church in the western coastal town of Negombo and another church in the eastern town of Batticaloa as the Easter Sunday mass were in progress. Three explosions were reported from the five-star hotels – the Shangri-La, the Cinnamon Grand and the Kingsbury.
According to the Government Analysts Department, a total of seven suicide bombers carried out the devastating blasts killed 290 people and injured 500 others.There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but police on Monday arrested 24 people and declined to give further details.
The blasts – the deadliest attacks in the country’s history shattered a decade of peace in the island nation since the end of the brutal civil war with the LTTE.
IS says it’s behind attack on security building in Saudi Arabia
Riyadh: The militant Islamic State (IS) group says it was behind an attack the previous day on a Saudi security building in the town of Zulfi in which all four gunmen were killed and three security officers were wounded.
The kingdom’s state-run al-Ekhbariya news channel had reported that police foiled Sunday’s attempted attack. Zulfi is about 250 kilometres north of the capital, Riyadh.
Videos circulating on social media show dead gunmen with machine guns and explosive devices.
The IS-linked Aamaq news agency released a video on Monday of the four alleged “martyrdom-seekers” behind the attack. It’s unclear when the footage was filmed.
In the video, one man criticises the Saudi royal family and says the attack is to avenge Muslims imprisoned in the kingdom, Syria and Iraq.