12:00 AM, February 25, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:13 AM, February 25, 2017
IS car bomb kills 51 in Syria’s Al-Bab
Iraq air force strikes IS targets in Syria for first time; peace talks open amid fragile ceasefire
[IS car bomb kills 51 in Syria’s Al-Bab ] Turkish-backed Syrian rebels patrol through the town of al-Bab shortly after they captured it from the Islamic State (IS) group. Photo: AFP
An Islamic State car bomb killed 51 people yesterday in a rebel-held village near the Syrian town of Al-Bab, sources in the region and a war monitor said, a day after the jihadist group was driven from its last stronghold in the area.
The blast devastated the twin command posts and also seriously wounded a large number of fighters in the village of Susian, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The observatory had earlier said that 42 people, mainly rebels, had died, but later clarified to say the majority of those killed were civilians.
The Turkey-backed rebels had on Thursday driven Islamic State from Al-Bab and two smaller towns nearby after weeks of streetfighting. Susian is behind the rebel lines about eight km (five miles) northwest of Al-Bab, reported Reuters.
"(Abu Bakr) al-Baghdadi’s dogs could not bear their huge loss, and their suicide bombers have begun to take revenge," said field commander Abu Jaafar of the Mutasem Brigades.
He said rebel fighters, Turkish soldiers, and civilians from Al-Bab had called a meeting in Susian "to organise a security apparatus and set a plan for rebuilding al-Bab."
"This information reached the (IS) sleeper cells, which prepared a car bomb" that detonated at Susian around 0800 am (0600 GMT), he told AFP.
Abu Jaafar, who was near Susian at the time of the attack, said hospitals in the area were full of wounded.
Meanwhile, Turkey said yesterday Turkish armed forces and allied Syrian rebels have completely taken the IS bastion of Al-Bab in northern Syria from jihadists.
The first full day of a fresh round of Syria peace talks began in Geneva yesterday, underlining the fragile state of a ceasefire on the ground.
The UN’s Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, who brought regime and opposition delegates symbolically together to launch the talks late Thursday, held separate meetings with them yesterday to hammer out the format for the meetings.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was "encouraged that the Syrians ... sat together in the same room," his spokesman in New York said, even if it remains unclear whether the two sides will actually hold face-to-face negotiations.
During three previous rounds of talks in Geneva last year, the rivals never sat down at the same table, instead leaving de Mistura to shuttle between them.
"While acknowledging that progress will not be easy, (Guterres) believes strongly that only a political solution can bring peace to Syria and that all those Syrians who have committed themselves to this goal should redouble their efforts for peace," he added.
It is "important for all sides to understand that war cannot continue and there are reasons why I think it is the right moment" for the talks, Mistura said late Thursday.
The ceasefire "is fragile but it is there, and we didn’t have one for many months," he added.
In his welcoming address, the veteran diplomat called on the war-torn nation’s rival sides to meet their historic responsibility. But he played down hopes of a breakthrough.
"I’m not expecting miracles," he admitted while warning of dire consequences if the talks "fail again".
IRAQI FORCE STRIKES IS TARGETS
The Iraqi air force struck Islamic State group targets inside neighbouring Syria, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said yesterday in a statement.
"We ordered the air force command to strike Daesh terrorist sites in Husseibeh and Albu Kamal, in Syrian territory," he said, using an Arabic acronym for the jihadist organisation.
He said the targets were connected with recent bombings in Baghdad but did not provide further details.
A security official speaking on condition of anonymity said it was the first time Iraq aircraft hunted IS targets across the border with Syria.
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