Two car bombings kill 68 in Syria

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - SARAH EL DEEB AND SUZAN FRASER

BEIRUT — At least two at­tacks Fri­day near a Syr­ian town just cap­tured by Turkish forces and Syr­ian op­po­si­tion fight­ers from the Is­lamic State group killed more than 60, mostly civil­ians and two Turkish sol­diers, as the group re­treats from one of its last re­main­ing strongholds in north­ern Syria, Turkey’s news agency and Syr­ian ac­tivists said.

A sui­cide car bomb went off out­side a se­cu­rity of­fice op­er­ated by the Syr­ian op­po­si­tion in a vil­lage 5 miles north of al-Bab, killing 60 peo­ple. Most of those killed in Sou­sian were civil­ians who had gath­ered seek­ing per­mits and es­corts to re­turn to al-Bab, a day af­ter it was lib­er­ated from the ex­trem­ist group, a Syr­ian mil­i­tary com­man­der in the city said. At least six fight­ers were among those killed in the at­tack, ac­cord­ing to Turkey’s Prime Min­is­ter, who spoke in Ankara.

Hours later, an­other car bomb at­tack was re­ported in Sou­sian, claim­ing the lives of at least eight, ac­cord­ing to ac­tivist groups. There were no fur­ther de­tails on the at­tack, and the Aleppo Me­dia Cen­ter later re­moved the re­port from its web­site.

De­spite the vi­o­lence, Turkey’s chief of mil­i­tary staff said his coun­try had “achieved the goals” it had set for its mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion in north­ern Syria. The Turkish mil­i­tary ear­lier an­nounced that its troops and al­lied Syr­ian op­po­si­tion fight­ers are in full con­trol of al-Bab but ef­forts to clear it of mines and ex­plo­sive de­vices were still on­go­ing.

Gen. Hu­lusi Akar spoke dur­ing a visit to the bor­der with Syria, a day af­ter Turkish troops and Turkey-backed op­po­si­tion forces cap­tured the town.

He did not say, how­ever, if Turkey would end its op­er­a­tions in north­ern Syria or move on to lib­er­ate other ar­eas.

The Turkish mil­i­tary said it cur­rently con­trols 743 square miles in north­ern Syria since its in­cur­sion there last Au­gust. The Turkey-backed op­er­a­tions have aimed to cre­ate a safe zone along the bor­der, de­ter­ring from its bor­ders Is­lamic State mil­i­tants as well as Kur­dish rebels it sees as an ex­ten­sion of its own in­sur­gent group.

Turkish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Erdogan and other of­fi­cials have spo­ken of plans to move the Turkish forces east to­ward the town of Man­bij that is held by U.S.-backed forces that in­clude Syr­ian Kur­dish fight­ers in a bid to oust them from the area. Turkish lead­ers have also sug­gested that Turkish troops could take part in op­er­a­tions to lib­er­ate the Is­lamic State group’s de facto cap­i­tal, Raqqa.

Akar said Turkey would pro­vide “ev­ery kind of sup­port” to help life in al-Bab re­turn to nor­mal and for the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion to re­turn to their homes.

On Fri­day, civil­ians at­tempt­ing to re­turn to al-Bab were hard­est hit.

Ac­cord­ing to Mo­hammed al-Tawil, a lead­ing Syr­ian op­po­si­tion fighter north of al-Bab, a sui­cide at­tacker blew up a small pickup out­side a se­cu­rity of­fice in Sou­sian vil­lage, about 5 miles north of al-Bab. He said the ex­plo­sion went off as the op­po­si­tion fight­ers were or­ga­niz­ing the re­turn of civil­ians from al-Bab who had been dis­placed by the fight­ing for their town.

“These peo­ple have suf­fered a lot,” al-Tawil said in a tele­phone in­ter­view from Sou­sian. “They have been wait­ing for this mo­ment” to re­turn home.

Al-Tawil, a mem­ber of the op­po­si­tion al-Bab mil­i­tary coun­cil, said about four fight­ers man­ning the check­point had been killed in the at­tack. Al-Tawil, who was at the se­cu­rity of­fice at the time of the ex­plo­sion, said the rest of the ca­su­al­ties were civil­ians from al-Bab. Turkey’s Anadolu news agency said at least 41 wounded were taken for treat­ment to the Turkish bor­der town of Kilis.

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