A bomb attack on an army bus in Damascus killed 14 people, the deadliest attack in the Syrian capital in four years, according to state news agency Sana.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the bombing, but moments later the bombings by government forces killed eight people in the Idlib region, which is controlled by groups who have claimed to have carried out such attacks in the past.
A terrorist attack with two explosive devices targeted a passing bus on a key bridge in the capital, the news agency said, reporting that 14 people had been killed and at least three injured.
Images released by Sana showed that emergency services were looking for the burned remains of the bus and what the state news agency said was a bomb squad defusing a third bomb planted in the same area.
A military source quoted by Sana said the bomb was placed on the bus and detonated as it passed near the Hafez al-Assad bridge, near the national museum in the heart of the capital.
Damascus has largely been spared from such violence in recent years, especially since Allied troops and militias recaptured the last significant rebel bastion near the city in 2018.
The attack is the deadliest in the capital since an attack claimed by the jihadist group of the Islamic State targeted the Palace of Justice in March 2017, killing at least 30 people.
About an hour after the Damascus attack, the Syrian regime’s bombings hit the war-torn city of Ariha in Idlib, a region in the northwest.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the rockets hit a busy area just as the children were on their way to school. Three children were among those killed, the Britain-based war monitoring group said.
An AFP reporter saw at least five dead bodies as first responders treated the injured and scenes of chaos filled the streets of Ariha.
“At 8:00 (0600 BST) we woke up to the bombing. The children were terrified and screamed, “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 anything 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 question the government’s claim that the decade-long war is over and the stability guaranteed for reconstruction efforts and investment projects to get started in earnest.
Bashar al-Assad’s government has tried to break out of international isolation and has made its way in recent months.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the conflict that broke out with the brutal repression of unarmed protests calling for regime change in 2011 resulted in the deaths of around half a million people.
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 some point.
Assad’s position was once hanging by a thread, with his forces and their allies controlling just a fifth of Syrian territory, but Russia’s military intervention in 2015 marked the beginning of a long and bloody counterattack.
Also backed by Iran and its proxy militias, government forces have recaptured nearly every key city in the country, with US-backed Kurdish forces still running the northeast.
The once-extended caliphate of the Islamic State, which straddled Iraq and Syria, had disappeared in eastern Syria in early 2019.
Since then, the main target of the Syrian government has been Idlib, where many of the rebels forced to surrender in other parts of the country have gathered.
The area is dominated by the jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which includes the leaders of the former Syrian branch of al-Qaeda and over which Turkey has some influence.
However, HTS has not claimed any attacks on Damascus for years. The remains of IS in eastern Syria have gone underground, but continue to harass the government and allied forces, mainly in desert areas, with hit and run attacks.
A truce agreement brokered by Turkey and Russia, the two main foreign players in the Syrian conflict, has effectively put the fighting in Idlib on standby. However, sporadic flare-ups kept the region in tension and Wednesday’s bombing of Ariha was one of the most serious violations of the truce agreement.
Assad insists he remains committed to regaining all the territory lost by the rebels at the start of the war, including the Idlib region.