At Least 43 People Killed by Truck Bomb in Rebel-Held Syrian Town


At least 43 people were killed on Saturday when a truck bomb ripped through the center of a busy commercial district in a rebel-held Syrian town along the Turkish border, activists and rescue workers said.

The explosion occurred outside a local courthouse and security headquarters operated by the opposition fighters who control the town, Azaz, said Saif Alnajdi, a resident and activist.

“It hit the busiest part of the town,” Mr. Alnajdi said, referring to its administrative section.

Azaz, a couple of miles away from the Turkish border, is a hub for antigovernment activists and opposition fighters, as well as many displaced people from the recent fighting in Aleppo. Activists say its prewar population of 30,000 has swelled.

The town is sandwiched between rival groups, including Kurdish fighters to the west and opposition groups backed by Turkey to the east. Militants of the Islamic State have been pushed back farther east by the Turkish-backed fighters.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack. The Islamic State has been accused of carrying out previous attacks there.

Rami Abdul Rahman, the founder of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, said the blast had been caused by explosives rigged to a tanker truck.

The activist-operated Azaz Media Center put the death toll at 60, adding that search-and-rescue operations had continued for hours after the explosion. The Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency said 53 wounded Syrians had been taken to a hospital in the nearby Turkish town of Kilis for treatment.

Mr. Alnajdi said rescue workers were still working to identify those who had been killed and ensure that bodies were removed from the area, suggesting that the death toll was likely to increase.

Many rebels and civilians who were pushed out of Aleppo during a government offensive late last year have resettled in Azaz.

Syrian Kurdish forces control territory to the west of Azaz. To the east, opposition fighters backed by Turkey have been pushing back the Islamic State, gaining territory and advancing on the town of Al Bab, a stronghold of the group, farther east.

A cease-fire has gone into effect across most of Syria since Russia and Turkey, who support opposite sides of the conflict, reached an agreement in late December.

Peace talks between the Syrian government and the opposition in Kazakhstan are planned for this month. The Islamic State and a group with links to Al Qaeda are not included in the deal, the Syrian government has said.

SOURCE: The Associated Press