SAYYIDA ZEINAB, Syria: A string of suicide bombings near a Shiite shrine outside Syria’s capital and in Homs claimed by jihadists killed more than 150 people Sunday, as Washington and Moscow worked to secure a ceasefire.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said a provisional deal had been reached on the terms of a truce in Syria’s brutal five-year conflict, only for the bloodshed to intensify on the ground.
Near Damascus, a car bombing followed by two consecutive suicide attacks ripped through the area of the Shiite shrine of Sayyida Zeinab and killed 96 people according to The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Syria’s official news agency SANA, quoting a police source, said 178 people, including children, were among the wounded.
An AFP reporter said the blasts struck about 400 meters from the revered Shiite shrine containing the grave of a granddaughter of the Prophet Mohammed.
A January attack in the same area — also claimed by IS — killed 70 people.
The Observatory also reported that two car bombs killed at least 59 people and wounded dozens in the pro-regime district of Al-Zahraa in the central city of Homs.
IS said online that two suicide bombers struck in Sayyida Zeinab and two others drove explosive-packed cars into crowds in Homs.
UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura “strongly condemns” the attacks, his spokesperson said in a statement.
State television footage from Homs showed emergency workers carrying a charred body on a stretcher past devastated shops and mangled cars and minibuses.
Al-Zahraa — whose residents are mostly from the same Alawite sect of Shia Islam as Syria’s ruling clan — has been regularly targeted.
World powers, which have been pushing for a halt in Syria’s nearly five-year war, had hoped to see a truce take effect on Friday but have struggled to agree on the terms.
On Sunday, Kerry spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at least three times to try to nail down a truce.
“We have reached a provisional agreement, in principle, on the terms of the cessation of hostilities that could begin in the coming days,” Kerry said in Amman after one round of talks.
The Russian foreign ministry later said Lavrov and Kerry held two more telephone conversations and finalized the ceasefire terms to be submitted to their respective presidents.
World powers proposed the truce just over a week ago as part of a plan that also included expanded humanitarian access, in a bid to pave the way for peace talks to resume.
The talks, which collapsed earlier this month in Geneva, had been scheduled to resume on February 25, but the UN’s Syria envoy has already acknowledged that date is no longer realistic.
Key opposition umbrella group the High Negotiations Committee said at the weekend it would agree a temporary truce only if regime backers halted fire.
HNC chief Riad Hijab said any ceasefire must be reached “with international mediation and with guarantees obliging Russia, Iran and their sectarian militias and mercenaries to stop fighting.”
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, meanwhile, told Spain’s El Pais newspaper he was “ready” for a ceasefire, but that it should not be exploited by “terrorists.”