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Homs bombs kill Syria troops: Was it 'Islamic State'?

Suicide attacks on two security service bases in the heart of Syria's government-held third city of Homs have killed 42 people, state media report. The attacks occurred as peace talks are underway in Geneva.

Six suicide blasts and associated shootings killed 42 regime troops at security facilities in Homs on Saturday, a monitoring group reports.

The dead included the chief of the city's military intelligence service, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

"There were at least six attackers, and several of them blew themselves up near the headquarters of state security and military intelligence," SOHR director Rami Abdel Rahman told the news agency AFP.

Carried out at two facilities, the attacks killed the province's army intelligence chief, General Hassan Daabul, a close confidant of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's. Security forces have attempted to lock down the center of Homs anew.

The latest violence

The government has had full control of Homs since May 2014, when rebels withdrew from the center under a UN-brokered truce deal. But the city has experienced repeated bombings since then. Twin attacks killed 64 people early last year, for just one example.

State television paid tribute to the "martyrs" of the latest bombings.

No group immediately claimed the attacks, but they bore the hallmarks of the "Islamic State," which controls swaths of the largely desert countryside east of Homs. Regime forces retook the oasis city of Palmyra and its UNESCO-listed ancient ruins in a much-heralded Russia-backed offensive last March, but IS pushed them back out in December. Since then, the Assad regime has focused its efforts further north, on Syria's second city, Aleppo, which government troops fully retook after brutalizing rebels and residents into withdrawal in December, and areas to its east and west.

On Friday, IS claimed a suicide bombing that killed 51 people outside the northern town of Al-Bab, which rebels based in Turkey said they had taken from the group earlier in the week. The SOHR reported that a car bomb targeted twin command posts at a rebel base in Susian, about 8 kilometers (5 miles) from Al-Bab - one of IS's last remaining strongholds in the Aleppo province. Separately, a suicide attack killed two Turkish soldiers in Al-Bab on Friday as they carried out road checks.

Saturday's attacks occurred as the United Nations has struggled to get going the latest round of on-again, off-again peace talks to end the six-year civil war, which has left more than 310,000 people dead. UN envoy Staffan de Mistura said government and rebel delegations had so far discussed little of substance at the current round of the talks in Geneva.

"We discussed issues relating to the format of the talks exclusively," Syrian regime delegation chief Bashar al-Jaafari said after meeting de Mistura on Friday.

mkg/tj (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)

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