Clashes in south Syria following deadly blast kill 17: monitor

Clashes in south Syria following deadly blast kill 17: monitor
At least 17 people have been killed in clashes in Daraa in southern Syria following an explosion a day earlier that killed several minors.
3 min read
Daraa province is plagued by security chaos, with killings and clashes a frequent occurrence [Getty/archive]

A war monitor said at least 17 people were killed in southern Syria's Daraa province Sunday in violence triggered by an explosion a day earlier that killed a group of children.

Daraa was the cradle of the 2011 uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's rule but it returned to government control in 2018 under a ceasefire deal backed by Russia.

The province has since been plagued by a wave of killings, with frequent clashes and precarious living conditions.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said Ahmed al-Labbad, who "leads an armed group", has been accused by a rival group of planting an explosive device that went off on Saturday in the city of Sanamayn, killing eight children.

Labbad, who previously worked for a state security agency, has denied planting the device, according to the Britain-based monitor, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria.

On Sunday, a rival armed group led by an individual who "previously belonged to the Islamic State group (IS) and now works for military intelligence" stormed part of Sanamayn and began clashing with Labbad's group, the monitor said.

The fighting left 17 dead, among them a former IS member, three members of Labbad's family and 12 of his fighters, as well as a civilian killed by a stray bullet, the Observatory said.

It added that clashes were ongoing on Sunday afternoon.

The Observatory had reported 12 dead in a previous toll.

Syrian state media did not immediately report the clashes.

Official news agency SANA, quoting a police source, gave a different toll for Saturday's explosion, saying seven children were killed in the explosion, which it blamed on "terrorists".

Attacks, some claimed by IS, regularly occur in Daraa province, as well as armed clashes and assassinations of government supporters, former opposition figures and civilians working for the government.

Former rebels in the province who accepted the 2018 deal sponsored by Russia - a key ally of Damascus - were able to keep their light weapons.

In late January, the Observatory said a local leader and seven other members of an IS-affiliated militia were killed in clashes with local factions in the province.

Syria's civil war, which erupted in 2011 after the government violently repressed peaceful pro-democracy protests, has killed more than half a million people, displaced millions, and ravaged the country's economy and infrastructure.