A roadside bomb killed at least 14 members of President Bashar Assad's minority Alawite on Thursday in the central Syrian province of Homs, an opposition monitoring group said.
The blast targeted two buses near the Alawite village of Jabourin, 13 km (8 miles) north of Homs city, said Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
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Alawites are an offshoot sect of Shiite Islam who mostly support Assad and have been increasingly targeted by hardliner fighters among the Sunni Muslim-dominated opposition in the 2-1/2 year revolt against the president.
Syrian troops in Homs (Photo: EPA)
The northern suburbs of Homs, which Assad's forces consider vital to securing their hold from Damascus to the president's coastal Alawite stronghold, have suffered heavy shelling and clashes between government forces and rebel fighters for several months.
Citing a source in a local military hospital, Abdelrahman told Reuters that nine of the victims in Thursday's explosion were civilians while the others may have belonged to the National Defence Forces, a loyalist paramilitary group
Desolation in Homs (Photo: Reuters)
He said that clashes broke out between rebel fighters and members of the NDF after the explosion. The Britain-based Observatory, which has a network of sources across Syria, cited activists and residents in its report.
Sectarian violence has increasingly overtaken a conflict that began as peaceful protests against four decades of Assad family rule.
Syria's Sunni Muslim majority has largely supported the uprising and Islamist groups among the rebels have increasingly threatened Alawites in retaliation for the killing of Sunnis. Meanwhile, Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah and Shiite militia from Iraq have sent men to fight alongside Assad's forces, angering Sunnis across the region.
Al-Qaeda on Turkish border
Turkey has closed one of its border gates to Syria after an al-Qaeda-affiliated rebel group clashed with units of the Arab- and Western-backed Free Syrian Army in the Syrian town of Azaz near the Turkish frontier, a Turkish official said on Thursday.
"The Oncupinar border gate has been closed for security reasons as there is still confusion about what is happening on the Syrian side. All humanitarian assistance that normally goes through the gate has ceased," the official told Reuters.
While Turkey says it normally operates an open door policy, allowing Syrian refugees to cross freely into its territory, from time to time it temporarily closes its border crossings following clashes near its frontier.
The Oncupinar crossing in Turkey's Kilis province sits opposite the Syrian Bab al-Salameh gate, and around 5 km (3 miles) from Azaz. The official said he was not aware of any clashes at the crossing itself, which fell into rebel hands last year.
The clashes in Azaz had now stopped and mediation efforts appeared to be under way, he said.
The emergence of al Qaeda-linked fighters along its 900-km (560-mile) border with Syria, within striking distance of Turkish territory, is a nightmare scenario for Ankara.
Turkey has been one of the strongest backers of the Syrian rebels, giving them shelter on its soil. It denies arming them, but fighters including militant Islamists have been able to cross its porous border into Syria.
Turkey says it does not favor any particular group in the opposition and has strongly denied accusations it has directly assisted more radical elements, especially in their fight against Kurdish rebels on Syria's northeastern border.
Violence has repeatedly spilled over the border.
Fifty-two people were killed when twin car bombs ripped through the Turkish border town of Reyhanli in the southern province of Hatay on May 11, three months after a similar blast killed more than a dozen at the border gate.
Turkey accused Syria of involvement in the May bombings, a charge Damascus denies, but others said the attacks could have been the work of one of the rebel factions, which include the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra.
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