BEIRUT (AP) — A car bomb exploded Saturday in a Syrian neighborhood largely populated by the Shiite offshoot sect that dominates the regime, killing eight people including three women and a teenager, according to a state-owned TV station. Outside the central city of Homs where the blast took place, government troops pressed an offensive against fleeing rebels in nearby villages.
The state-owned Al-Ikhbariya TV said the booby-trapped car exploded in a populated area near a roundabout in Adawiya, a mostly Alawite district. The station’s reporter on the scene said 10 people were wounded by the explosion, which also heavily damaged houses in the area.
Al-Ikhbariya’s footage shows frantic residents running around, blood splattered on the ground, and a badly mangled car. Other cars on the street were also damaged. The reporter said the car was carrying about 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of explosives.
The station had earlier said the blast was caused by a suicide bomb.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of informants inside Syria, confirmed that the car was booby-trapped. It said seven were killed, citing preliminary reports.
The rare explosion in a neighborhood populated by Alawites, the sect to which President Bashar Assad belongs, comes as the conflict takes increasingly sectarian overtones.
The rebels are largely from Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority and have been joined by Sunni fighters from other countries. The government’s offensive in towns and villages south of the city, in contrast, has been backed by fighters from Lebanon’s Shiite militant Hezbollah group.
The Adawiya area is one of a number of Alawite neighborhoods in Homs city. It is also home to a small Christian community, and a church. Homs city is home to one of the biggest Alawite communities in Syria, also widely seen as pro-Assad.
Government troops have made a major push in recent weeks to reclaim rebel-held areas in Homs province, the linchpin linking the capital Damascus with Alawite strongholds on the Mediterranean coast. The rebels are in control of the center of Homs city, including its old quarter, and are besieged by regime forces in the outlying areas of the city.
Many towns north of Homs city are rebel-controlled but government and Hezbollah forces are clearing rebels from villages and towns to the south. The government on Wednesday recaptured the town of Qusair after a grueling three-week offensive that caused heavy losses on both sides and trapped civilians in the area for weeks.
Buoyed by that victory, government troops have pushed on from Qusair. Syrian state TV said Saturday that government troops took control of Buwaydah village between Qusair and Homs city, after intensive clashes were reported there earlier.
Abu Bilal al-Homsi, an activist in the old quarter of the city of Homs who has links with several rebel groups, said through Skype that rebels sustained heavy losses late Friday as they attempted to flee the village with their wounded and civilians. Al-Homsi asked to be identified by his alias for security concerns.
Pro-regime media outlets claim government forces are preparing to move to recapture the contested northern city of Aleppo next.