A bombing of an army bus in Damascus left 14 people dead, the deadliest attack in the Syrian capital in four years, the national news agency Sana reported.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the bombing, but moments later shelling by government forces killed eight people in the Idlib area, which is controlled by groups who claimed to have carried out such attacks in the past.
A terrorist attack using two explosive devices targeted a bus passing over a key bridge in the capital, the news agency said, reporting that 14 people were killed and at least three injured.
Images released by Sana showed emergency services searching the burnt remains of the bus and what the state news agency said was a bomb squad defusing a third device planted in the same area.
A military source cited by Sana said the bomb was planted on the bus and exploded as it passed near the Hafez al-Assad Bridge, near the National Museum in the heart of the capital.
Damascus had been largely spared such violence in recent years, especially since Allied troops and militias retook the last major rebel stronghold near the city in 2018.
The attack is the deadliest in the capital since an attack claimed by the jihadist group Islamic State targeting the courthouse in March 2017, killing at least 30 people.
About an hour after the attack on Damascus, the Syrian regime’s bombing struck the war-ravaged city of Ariha in Idlib, a region in the northwest.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the rockets hit a busy area as the children were on their way to school. Three children were among those killed, the Britain-based war watch group said.
An AFP journalist saw at least five dead bodies as first responders treated the injured and scenes of chaos filled the streets of Ariha.
“At 8 am (0600 BST), we woke up to the bombing. The children were terrified and screaming, ”said Bilal Trissi, a father of two who lives nearby. “We didn’t know what to do or where to go and we didn’t see a thing because of all the dust around us.
“They bombed us in our neighborhood and in the market. There are children who have died and people who have lost their limbs… We don’t know why. What are we guilty of?
The Damascus bombing will challenge the government’s claim that the ten-year-old war is over and stability guaranteed for reconstruction efforts and investment projects to begin in earnest.
Bashar al-Assad’s government is working to break out of international isolation and has made inroads in recent months.
The conflict that erupted with the brutal crackdown on unarmed protests demanding regime change in 2011 left around half a million dead, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
It also led to the largest conflict-induced displacement since World War II, with half of Syria’s pre-war population of 22 million forced to flee their homes at one point.
Assad’s position once held only a thread, with his forces and allies controlling just one-fifth of Syrian territory, but Russia’s military intervention in 2015 marked the beginning of a long and bloody response.
Also supported by Iran and its proxy militias, government forces have recaptured nearly all of the country’s key cities, with US-backed Kurdish forces continuing to rule the northeast.
The once sprawling Islamic State caliphate, which straddled parts of Iraq and Syria, had vanished in eastern Syria by early 2019.
Since then, the main focus of the Syrian government has been in Idlib, where many rebels forced to travel to other parts of the country have gathered.
The area is dominated by the jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which includes leaders of the former Syrian branch of al-Qaeda and over which Turkey has some sway.
However, HTS has not claimed responsibility for attacks in Damascus for years. ISIS remnants in eastern Syria have gone underground but continue to harass the government and allied forces, mostly in desert areas, in blitz attacks.
A truce deal brokered by Turkey and Russia, the two main foreign players in the Syrian conflict, effectively put the fighting in Idleb on hold. However, sporadic outbreaks have kept the region on high alert and the bombing of Ariha on Wednesday was one of the most serious violations of the truce agreement.
Assad insists he remains committed to reclaiming all the territory lost to rebels at the start of the war, including the Idlib region.