Car bombs kills 26 in Syria

Beirut:The toll from twin car bombs that rocked the outskirts of the Syrian city of Sweida has risen to 26 people, including a prominent Druze cleric known for criticising Syria’s regime, a monitor said.

“The death toll from the car bomb attacks outside Sweida has risen to 26 people. Another 50 people are wounded,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights yesterday.

Abdel Rahman earlier said that Sheikh Wahid al-Balous, who spoke out often against both the Syrian regime and Islamists, was killed in the attack as he was driving on the outskirts of the city.

The second car bomb struck near the hospital in the Dahr al-Jabal neighbourhood where the wounded were being taken, the monitor added.

Syria’s official news agency SANA earlier said eight people had been killed and 22 wounded.

Sweida is the heartland of Syria’s Druze minority, which made up around three per cent of the country’s pre-war population of 23 million.

“Balous was the leader of the Sheikhs of Dignity group, which aimed to protect the Druze areas in Syria,” said Malek Abu Kheir, a journalist from Sweida who knew him.

The Sheikhs of Dignity are the most powerful militia in the area and had fought fierce battles against the Islamic State jihadist group and Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate.

Balous opposed army conscripts from Sweida being sent outside the province, and often spoke out against both jihadist groups and the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, Abu Kheir told AFP.

Days before Balous was killed, Sweida residents had gathered in the city to demand more regular government services, including electricity and water.

Activists told AFP the protesters had the support of Balous. (AFP)