Damascus, Dec 2: A car bomb rocked Syria's third largest city Homs today killing 15 people, state media said, as the army hammered rebel positions around Damascus in a strategic assault aimed at securing the capital. Shell fire from Syria, meanwhile, hit a Turkish border town late yesterday, without causing casualties. It was the first cross-border shelling since Ankara requested that NATO deploy Patriot air defence missiles on the restive frontier.
"A terrorist attack struck the Hamra district of Homs," the state SANA news agency said, adding that it killed 15 people and wounded 24 in the government-held neighbourhood. State television said it was a car bombing. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported a car bombing in Homs. "At least seven civilians were killed in a car bomb explosion near the sports stadium," it said, adding that many of the wounded were in a critical condition and the death toll was likely to rise.
"The Hamra neighbourhood has been under regime control throughout the revolt," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP. "The blast hit an area where there is a large vegetable market. The closest checkpoint is some 500 metres (yards) away." Amateur video footage posted online by opposition activists showed the bodies of at least three victims, including a woman buried in the rubble of a building as a car burned not far away.
Assad's forces on Sunday hammered rebel positions around Damascus with artillery fire and air strikes, in an offensive aimed at securing a perimeter around the capital including the main highway to the international airport that has been under sustained rebel assault, a watchdog said. Nationwide, a total of 49 people were killed today, among them 23 civilians, according to a preliminary toll from the Observatory. They add to a death toll that already tops 41,000 over the past 20 months.