At least 22 dead in attack on heartland of Syria regime
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At least 22 dead in attack on heartland of Syria regime

State media reporting huge blast in Alawite stronghold; monitoring groups expect death toll to rise

Satellite footage of an alleged missile base in Latakia, Syria (photo credit: Wikimapia)
Satellite footage of an alleged missile base in Latakia, Syria (photo credit: Wikimapia)

At least 22 people were killed in mortar fire Tuesday on Syria’s coastal city of Latakia, in one of the bloodiest shellings there since the country’s war began, state media reported.

Latakia lies in the heartland of the minority Alawite sect to which Syria’s ruling clan belongs and has been largely spared attacks during four and a half years of civil war.

The toll rose to “22 people killed and 62 wounded” in the attack on eastern neighborhoods of the regime stronghold, state television said.

Earlier, state news agency SANA had said 12 people died and 57 were hurt when two mortar rounds struck residential neighborhoods.

A rare car bombing in September killed 10 people and wounded dozens in Hamam Square in the provincial capital.

Rebels and jihadists, including al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate, have long targeted the region, in part for its symbolic value as a regime stronghold.

According to a Syrian security source, Tuesday’s attack took place near Latakia’s Tishreen University, “where many students were gathered.”

Abir Selman, a 24-year old literature student at the university, said she was waiting for the bus when the mortars struck.

“I saw blood everywhere and people running in every direction,” she told AFP. “I passed by a corpse that had nothing left except for its legs… We wait at this bus stop every day,” Selman added.

Syrian state television broadcast video footage of blood-stained streets littered with broken class and mangled cars.

The shelling came during an offensive by government forces in the mountains near the city under the cover of Russian airstrikes. Russian warplanes have been taking off from a military air base south of Latakia since Sept. 30, carrying out strikes around Syria.

Meanwhile, one person was killed and five wounded in a mortar attack on residential areas of Damascus, state television said.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights at least 10 mortar rounds struck various neighborhoods of the capital.

The Britain-based Observatory said another four people, including a child, were killed in government rocket fire on the flash point town of Douma, east of Damascus.

The toll was likely to rise as some of those wounded were in critical condition, the monitoring group said.

This file photo made from the footage taken from the Russian Defense Ministry official web site on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015, an aerial view of a bomb explosion in Syria. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP, File)
This file photo made from the footage taken from the Russian Defense Ministry official website on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015, an aerial view of a bomb explosion in Syria. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP, File)

Douma lies in the opposition bastion of Eastern Ghouta, which is regularly bombarded by regime forces.

Suspected Russian strikes on the town last week killed at least 23 civilians.

More than 250,000 people have been killed in Syria’s conflict, which began in March 2011 with anti-government protests but spiraled into a civil war after a brutal crackdown by government security forces.

AP contributed to this report.

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