Syria - IS blasts kill nearly 130

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Syria, Feb 21: A string of suicide bombings near a Shiite shrine outside Syria's capital and in Homs claimed by jihadists killed at least 127 people today, as the US and Russia worked to secure a ceasefire.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said a provisional deal had been reached on the terms of a truce in Syria's brutal five-year conflict, only for the bloodshed to intensify on the ground.

Syria

Near Damascus, the attacks, including a car bombing, ripped through the area of the Shiite shrine of Sayyida Zeinab and killed 68 people, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. And two car bombs killed at least 59 people and wounded dozens in the pro-regime district of Al-Zahraa in the central city of Homs, said the Britain-based monitoring group.

The Islamic State jihadist group said it was behind the day's carnage. State television footage from Homs showed emergency workers carrying a charred body on a stretcher past devastated shops and mangled cars and minibuses.

Al-Zahraa -- whose residents are mostly from the same Alawite sect of Shia Islam as Syria's ruling clan -- has been regularly targeted. IS said in an online statement that two jihadists drove explosive-laden cars into crowds of local residents.

Two more of its suicide bombers carried out the Sayyida Zeinab bombings, the Sunni extremist group said. State television said a car bombing and two suicide attacks hit the area, killing 30 and wounding dozens in a preliminary toll, whereas the Observatory gave a death toll of 68 in four attacks.

An AFP reporter said the blasts struck about 400 metres from the shrine which contains the grave of a granddaughter of the Prophet Mohammed and is revered by Shiites. At least 60 shops were damaged and cars reduced to mangled metal in the area, where a January attack also claimed by IS killed 70 people.

World powers have been pushing for a halt in fighting in Syria that was meant to take effect by last Friday, but have struggled to agree on the terms. The latest bombings came as Kerry said he had spoken with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and agreed on how to implement a ceasefire in the conflict that has cost more than 260,000 lives.

"We have reached a provisional agreement, in principle, on the terms of the cessation of hostilities that could begin in the coming days," Kerry said on a visit to Amman.

"It is not yet done and I anticipate that our presidents, President (Barack) Obama and President (Vladimir) Putin, may well speak somewhere in the next days or so in order to try to complete this task."

The Russian foreign ministry later said on its Facebook page that Lavrov and Kerry held two more telephone conversations later today and finalised the ceasefire terms to be submitted to their respective presidents. Assad, meanwhile, told Spain's El Pais newspaper he was "ready" for a ceasefire, but said it should not be exploited by "terrorists". 

AFP

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