Blast in northern Syria kills at least 36

An explosion in northern Syria killed at least 36 people on Sunday (Monday NZ Time) and wounded many others, but the cause of the blast wasn't immediately known, opposition activists said.

This photo provided by the Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian White Helmet civil defense workers with bulldozers work at the scene of an explosion that brought down a five-story building, in the village of Sarmada, near the Turkish border, north Syria, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018. Syrian opposition activists say the explosion killed several people and wounded many others. The cause of the blast wasn't immediately known. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)
Source: Associated Press

The opposition-run Syrian Civil Defense, first responders also known as the White Helmets, said the blast occurred in the village of Sarmada near the Turkish border, killing 36 people and wounding many others. The explosion collapsed two five-story buildings, burying many of the victims, it said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll at 39, including 21 women and children.

This photo provided by the Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian White Helmet civil defense workers remove a body from the rubble at the scene of an explosion that brought down a five-story building, in the village of Sarmada, near the Turkish border, north Syria, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018. Syrian opposition activists say the explosion killed several people and wounded many others. The cause of the blast wasn't immediately known. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)
Source: Associated Press

An opposition media collective known as the Smart news agency, said the dead included civilians as well as members of the al-Qaida-linked Levant Liberation Committee.

The Observatory said an arms depot in the basement of a building had detonated. It said the depot was run by an arms dealer close to the Levant Liberation Committee.

Meanwhile, Syrian government forces fighting rebels in Idlib province have sent more reinforcements ahead of a potential offensive on the last major rebel stronghold in Syria.

The pro-government Al-Watan daily said Sunday that huge military reinforcements have reached the outskirts of Idlib province as a preliminary step to launch a wide-scale offensive.

Quoting military sources, the paper said that troops have reached the northern countryside of the neighboring Hama province as part of military preparations to recapture Idlib province.

The expected offensive on Idlib comes after government forces captured major rebel strongholds earlier this year near the capital Damascus and in the southern provinces of Daraa and Quneitra.

The paper said that the battle would be "comprehensive" starting from Hama's northern countryside to the southern countryside of Aleppo, adding that the target of the battle is to seize Idlib City.

Government airstrikes on the province on Friday killed dozens.

Pro-government activists said on social media that the elite Tiger Force, led by Brig. Gen. Suheil al-Hassan, arrived in northern Syria to spearhead what they called the "Dawn of Idlib" operation.


Topics



Charlottesville demonstrators criticise police

More than 100 people are demonstrating against racism in downtown Charlottesville, marking the one-year anniversary of a violent white nationalist rally and protesting this year's ramped-up police presence.

Demonstrators march on the campus of the University of Virginia in anticipation of the anniversary of last year's Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Source: Associated Press

The group began marching on Sunday morning (local time) after a rally held at a city park and made its way toward downtown. Some marchers linked arms as they walked.

The group directed chants against police officers who were accompanying the march, including "cops and Klan go hand in hand."

Law enforcement officials faced blistering criticism in the wake of last year's rally for what was perceived as a passive response to the violence that unfolded.

A review by a former U.S. attorney found a lack of coordination between state and city police and an operational plan that elevated officer safety over public safety.

Demonstrators on Sunday chanted, "Will you protect us?"


Topics

TODAY'S
FEATURED STORIES

Malians vote in presidential runoff amid security concerns

Malians are voting on Sunday (Monday NZ Time) in a second round presidential election to determine if incumbent Ibrahim Boubacar Keita will remain in office in this sprawling West African nation threatened by rising extremist violence. He faces off against opposition leader Soumaila Cisse.

Observers watch as Malian incumbent President, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, casts his ballot during the Presidential second round election in Bamako, Mali, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018. Malians are voting Sunday in a second round presidential election with Boubacar Keita facing off against opposition leader Soumaila Cisse. (AP Photo/Annie Risemberg)
Source: Associated Press

Sunday's polls opened to light rain and light turnout. Many worry that the vote could be marred by violence. In the July 29 first-round presidential vote, extremists killed three election workers and destroyed some voting materials.

Nearly 43 percent of voters made it to the polls last month and at least 671 polling stations were closed. Despite the relatively low turnout officials called the vote well-conducted.

Mali has grown more insecure since Keita beat Cisse in a second round election in 2013.

Malian authorities arrested three jihadists on Friday who said they were preparing to carry out an attack during the vote in Bamako, said Mali army spokesman Col. Idrissa Traore on Sunday.

Extremists are staging more bold attacks that have spread to central Mali, where both Islamic State and al-Qaida-linked militants are present. Deadly communal clashes between ethnic groups and accusations of heavy-handed counterterror operations have caused even deeper tensions and mistrust of the state.

Still, a second term for Keita, 73, seems likely. He received 41.7 percent of the vote in the first round from a field of 24 candidates and has gained endorsements from some other candidates.

Dressed in his traditional white boubou, Keita voted near his home in Bamako on Sunday.

"I hope that everyone will be very vigilant," he said, saying that any suspected attempts at fraud should be reported to police. "Ultimately this election must end as it should, with the celebration of democracy ... This is what we hope for in our hearts.

Cisse, 68, who placed second in the first round with nearly 18 percent of the vote, has blamed Keita for insecurity, violence and corruption. His opposition party also alleges there was voting fraud in July. Cisse has not received major endorsements from failed candidates but does have the backing of a popular spiritual leader Mohamed Ould Bouye Haidara.

"This time, I have a good feeling," Cisse has said.

His campaign director Tiebile Drame charged there were cases of stuffing of ballot boxes in several northern locations. However the constitutional court on Wednesday said it has registered more than 10 requests from the opposition over various anomalies in the first round, but most were declared inadmissible.

On Saturday, the opposition organized a march "to warn against the fraud."

Issa Namory Keita, a 57-year-old retiree, said he would vote for the incumbent, Keita.

"Unlike his challenger, my candidate knows the country well and it is he who has the solution to the problems," he said.

Another voter who was unrelated but with the same family name, Fanta Keita, said she will also vote for the current president.

"He is a man who loves his country, he is a worker who has opened several development sites and I hope he continues his work," she said.

Voter turnout trickled throughout the day and it expected to remain low. Some people have fled areas of violence until the vote is over.

In central Mali, attacks have become more frequent amid communal clashes as neighbors suspect one another of being recruited by extremist groups. Meanwhile, Malian soldiers in recent months have been accused of abuses, including extrajudicial killings, during counterterror operations.

On Wednesday, armed men attacked the Boni prefecture, according to a Malian security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not permitted to speak to the press. The armed men killed the prefect's secretary.

Malian authorities have tried to reassure the public and encourage them to go to the polls for the second round.

Residents in central Mali, however, have said they don't see the increased security. Many in the municipalities of Pignariba, Lowel-Gueou and Bara-Sara have said they likely won't be able to vote.


Topics