Suicide attacks on two security service bases in the heart of Syria’s government-held third city of Homs killed 42 people on Saturday, overshadowing peace talks in Geneva, state television and a monitor said.
“There were at least six attackers and several of them blew themselves up near the headquarters of state security and military intelligence,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
State television reported that the province’s army intelligence chief, General Hassan Daabul, a close confidant of President Bashar al-Assad, was among the dead when the six suicide bombers struck in the heavily guarded Ghouta and Mahatta neighbourhoods.
Security forces locked down the city centre.
Homs has been under the full control of the government since May 2014 when rebels withdrew from the centre under a UN-brokered truce deal.
But it has seen repeated bombings since then. Twin attacks killed 64 people early last year.
State television paid tribute to the “martyrs” in the latest bombings.
There was no immediate claim for the bombings but they bore the hallmarks of the Islamic State group, which controls swathes of the largely desert countryside east of Homs.
Government forces retook the oasis city of Palmyra and its UNESCO-listed ancient ruins in a much heralded Russian-backed offensive in March last year but were then pushed out by IS in December.
Since then, the focus of government efforts has been further north, on second city Aleppo, which they fully retook after a rebel withdrawal in December, and areas to its east and west.
Saturday’s attack comes as the UN is struggling to get a new round of peace talks off the ground aimed at ending the six-year civil war which has killed more than 310,000 people.
UN envoy Staffan de Mistura said that despite government and rebel delegations being present in Geneva for the talks there had been little discussion of substance between the rival parties.
“We discussed issues relating to the format of the talks exclusively,” said Syrian regime delegation chief Bashar al-Jaafari after meeting de Mistura on Friday.
IS claimed a Friday suicide bombing that killed 51 people outside the northern town of Al-Bab, which Turkish-backed rebels said this week they had taken from the jihadists.
The Observatory said that a car bomb targeted twin command posts at a rebel base in Susian, about eight kilometres (five miles) from Al-Bab, which was one of IS’s last remaining strongholds in Aleppo province.
Separately, two Turkish soldiers were killed in a suicide attack in Al-Bab on Friday as they were carrying out road checks.