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Apr 19, 6:06 AM EDT

Car bomber kills 6 at Syrian government checkpoint

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DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- Two rebel car bombs targeted two central Syrian areas controlled by government forces on Saturday, killing at least ten people as opposition forces fought fiercely to hold onto territory, officials and activists reported.

Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said one car bomb killed at least four people in the city of Homs, in an area dominated by Alawites - the same sect as President Bashar Assad. State-run television also reported the bombing but did not immediately have a death toll. The Observatory obtains its information from a network of activists on the ground.

Rebels in Homs have undertaken a spate of suicide car bombings targeting soldiers and civilians in government-held neighborhoods as Syrian forces launch their toughest assault yet on opposition-held areas. Rebels are already badly weakened by hundreds of defections and a blockade that caused widespread hunger and suffering.

Earlier in the day, another suicide bomber in a car blew himself up at a checkpoint near the government-controlled town of Salamiya, killing at least six soldiers, activists said. The bombing also left an unknown number of civilian casualties, the Observatory said.

A Syrian government official confirmed the bombing but said four people were killed and nine were wounded. Conflicting death tolls are routine after such attacks. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media.

The bombing at the entrance of the town comes in the midst of fierce fighting in the central province of Hama.

Assad-loyal forces have been clashing with rebels in the nearby town of Morek, and military helicopters have been dropping crude, explosive-filled barrels over the town of Kafr Zeita, some 40 miles away.

Two activists and a medic in Kafr Zeita told The Associated Press this week that at least three of the crude "barrel bombs" that fell on their town in April contained canisters of chlorine gas that have caused residents to choke and faint.

The Syrian government accuses rebels of using the canisters, which are readily available and can be used easily.

Car bombings are a prized tactic of Syrian rebels, particularly those belonging to hard-line Sunni groups.


Hadid reported from Beirut.

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