Syrian rebels have claimed responsibility for a bombing that leveled a hotel used as a base by government troops in the city of Aleppo. In the west, the last rebels are filing out of the city of Homs.
Thursday‘s explosion struck the Carlton Hotel in a government-held area near a contested neighborhood in the old part of Aleppo, apparently as a result of rebels tunneling under the building to plant explosives that could be detonated remotely. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which maintains a network of activists on the ground, announced that the blast had killed at least 16 soldiers.
Another group raised the toll: “Our holy warriors this morning blew up the Carlton Hotel barracks in Old Aleppo and a number of adjoining buildings, killing more then 50 soldiers,” the Islamic Front, an alliance of groups split from the Free Syrian Army, posted on Twitter. Neither group reported how it had estimated the toll, and the claims could not be independently verified.
State television reported that the army had used the building as a base and that soldiers had found themselves inside at the time of the explosion. However, the reporter did not mention casualties as the Syrian government does not regularly publicize its losses in the civil war.
A week ago, government forces had killed dozens of civilians in a bomb attack on a market in Aleppo.
Homs evacuation concludes
The last rebels in Homs were leaving the city center on Thursday. About 80 percent had already left in an evacuation that began Wednesday, provincial governor Talal Barazi said, with the remaining 300-400 to leave on Thursday in evacuation buses that would carry them to the opposition-held town of Dar al-Kabira, 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Homs.
“On Wednesday, 980 people left, the great majority rebels but some of them civilians, including women and children,” Barazi told the news agency AFP on Thursday.
Negotiated last week, the pullout from central Homs leaves rebels confined to a district on the city’s outskirts. Barazi said that negotiations had advanced for the rebels to leave that neighborhood in the coming weeks.
Homs became known as a birthplace of the revolution when thousands protested there in March 2011, helping spark nationwide demonstrations against President Bashar al-Assad. After the regime began to fire mortar bombs on protests in Homs, the revolution became armed, leading to the war that in just over three years has displaced 6 million people within the country, sent another 2.5 million abroad to live as refugees and killed more than 150,000.
Having successfully remained in power during the long war, Assad has announced his intent to run for re-election in June.
mkg/jr (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)