After the last weekend of violence that included several car bomb attacks, around 24 people are killed and scores wounded across parts of rebel-held Syria. On Sunday a car bomb detonated in the town of Azaz near a building used by Turkish-backed fighters as an administrative headquarters killing eleven people and leaving 30 injured. Pictures from the scene show black smoke rising from the car’s damaged remains, mangled buildings, and a street covered in debris from the explosion.
Ahmad Ali, 33, was passing by when the Azaz car bomb detonated about 100 metres away. He said that the explosion sounded like “thunder” which made him temporarily deaf. He even adds that it was a horrifying day when he witnessed the explosion in a busy place near a market where people register births and marriages.
On Sunday, military sources said another car bomb went off at a checkpoint near the Beza’a town, killing five fighters from the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) umbrella group and injuring another four.
After a decade of war, Syria is now roughly divided into three zones of control.
In the north-west corner of the country is crammed with around 3 million civilians, the most of whom are terrified to return to their homes in regime-held areas and the remains of the Syrian opposition, Turkish-backed Syrian forces and Islamist groups.
In the north-east Kurdish-led, US-backed forces control the oil and wheat-producing. Still, most of Syria is now once again ruled again by Bashar al-Assad, who has clawed back all of the country’s major cities from the opposition with Russia and Iran’s help.
These attacks on Sunday added to an already violent weekend across parts of Syria outside regime control: on Saturday, the de-facto Turkish controlled town of Afrin was rocked by a car bomb which killed eight people, including four children. On Sunday in Hasekeh, a town controlled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Kurdish security forces opened fire on pro-Syrian government demonstrators, killing one and injuring four.
Any group did not claim the explosions in Azaz and Afrin. Still, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has links to the SDF, is believed to be responsible for what Syrian Civil Defence statistics show is a growing number of IED, motorcycle and car bomb attacks in both cities.
The city of Afrin was evacuated of its majority Kurdish population after a 2018 Turkish offensive on the town, while Azaz serves as the Turkish-backed forces’ administrative headquarters. The sleeper cells of Islamic State have also been linked to bombings in the area.
The Syrian Civil Defence, a volunteer rescue group operating in rebel-held parts of Syria also known as the White Helmets, says it has already responded to 13 explosions in the country’s north-west since the beginning of the year.
The surge in violence so far in 2021 adds to north-west Syria’s already severe wintertime problems: an increase in coronavirus cases is stretching an already broken healthcare system to breaking point, and heavy rains and flooding have affected 67,600 people living in displacement camps.