UN efforts to launch a new round of Syria peace talks sputtered today as suicide attacks killed dozens of people, with the death toll from two days of violence nearing 100 and the Damascus regime vowing retaliation.
The blasts targeting two security service bases in Homs, Syria’s third city, killed a top intelligence chief and close confidant of President Bashar al-Assad, and were claimed by former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in all, 42 people were killed, but the provincial governor put the figure at 30 dead.
Bashar al-Jaafari, the regime’s envoy to the talks in Geneva, said Syria would retaliate following the deadly assault.
“The terrorist attacks that targeted Homs today were a clear message from the sponsors of terrorism to Geneva,” he said. “This message has been received...and we won’t allow for it to pass without retaliation.”
United Nations envoy Staffan de Mistura said today’s suicide attacks were designed to “spoil” the peace talks.
The Homs attacks came a day after 77 people, mostly civilians, were killed in a suicide bombing claimed by the Islamic State group in Al-Bab, said the Observatory. The jihadists were ousted from the northern town this week by Turkish-backed rebels.
In Geneva, Syrian government and opposition negotiators were to continue meetings with de Mistura through the weekend despite little hope for a breakthrough.
After meeting de Mistura yesterday, the Syrian regime envoy Jaafari said he would study a UN paper on the “format” of the talks, but gave no indication that the negotiations had any momentum.
The main opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) described its meeting with de Mistura as “positive”, without elaborating on a possible path forward.
During three previous rounds of talks in Geneva last year, the rivals never sat down at the same table, instead leaving de Mistura to shuttle between them.
The HNC has said it wants to meet the government face-to-face this time.
At the end of Friday’s negotiations, de Mistura’s acting chief of staff Michael Contet signalled there was no immediate prospect of direct talks.
Saturday’s Homs attack saw bombers targeting the headquarters of state security and military intelligence in a spectacular assault that killed General Hassan Daabul, a top military intelligence official.
“There were at least six attackers and several of them blew themselves up near the headquarters of state security and military intelligence,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
Fateh al-Sham Front said just five militants took part in the assault, the latest atrocity in a six-year war which has killed more than 310,000 people.