World

DAMASCUS (Web Desk) – At least 78 people have been killed in a series of bomb attacks on two government strongholds near the Mediterranean coast in Syria.

A suicide bomber and a car bomb blew up within minutes of each other at a bus station in the port city of Tartous, state media said on Monday.

A bus station and a hospital were targeted by four bombings in Jableh, a town in northern Syria.

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Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the bomb attacks, according to the BBC.

Amaq, a group close to IS, said the militants had targeted “gatherings of Alawites”, a reference to the sect to which President Bashar al-Assad belongs.

Russia – a key backer of President Assad – has a naval base in Tartous and an airbase near Jableh, from where it has conducted air strikes on IS targets across Syria.

The blasts occurred only a day after the U.S. Central Command leader visited Syria for 11 hours, reportedly to check on the progress of U.S. trained local forces fighting to defeat the Islamic State.

General Joseph Votel spent time in northern Syria and met with U.S. military advisers and leaders of the Syrian Democratic Forces made up of Arab and Kurdish rebel forces, the BBC reported.

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Speaking after his unannounced visit, Votel said training local forces to fight IS, also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, is the right approach.

“I left with increased confidence in their capabilities and our ability to support them. I think that model is working and working well,” he said.

The SDF is made up of about 25,000 Kurdish fighters and about 5,000 Arab fighters.

Votel is the highest-ranking U.S. military official to travel to Syria during the civil war and this was the first daylight U.S. transport mission into Syria.

The visit occurred as the first of 250 additional U.S. special operations troops are arriving in Syria to train local forces.

Syria’s state news agency, Sana, cited a police source as saying that 45 people were killed and many others, most of them women and children, were injured in Jableh.

It reported that two bombs exploded at the main entrance of the town’s bus station.

A suicide bomber also blew himself up at the entrance of the emergency department at Jableh National Hospital.

The fourth blast reportedly occurred near the offices of Jableh’s electricity directorate, on the outskirts of the Amara residential district.

In Tartous, more than 33 people were killed and 47 injured, Sana said.

A car bomb was detonated at the main gate to the city’s bus station, while a suicide bomber detonated an explosive vest inside the facility, it added.

Another bomber blew himself up in a residential area in the west of the city, according to Sana.

Until now, both Tartous and Jableh had escaped the worst of the five-year war in Syria, which has left more than 250,000 people dead, many of them civilians.