ISIS suicide blasts rock central Syria city of Hama
DAMASCUS - At least two people were killed on Monday in rare suicide blasts in the central Syrian city of Hama, claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group.
State news agency SANA, citing a local police source, said two "terrorists" detonated their explosive belts near Assi Square in the city centre about 15 minutes apart.
The attack killed two people and wounded 12 others, Hama governor Ghassan Khalaf told state television.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor, one of the blasts hit a building used by the ruling Baath party.
The IS-affiliated Amaq news agency said "suicide attacks by fighters from the Islamic State using explosive vests" targeted government buildings in the city.
ISIS holds some territory in northeastern swathes of Hama province, but it is the first time they have claimed an attack in the city, which has remained relatively insulated from the brutal violence of Syria's five-year war.
In August 2013, a car bomb in the city killed Hama's former governor, and another blast two months later left more than 30 people dead.
In the first months of Syria's uprising, which broke out in March 2011, Hama saw some of the largest demonstrations against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.
But later that year, security forces stormed the city, killing scores of people. They have held a tight grip on the city ever since.
The broader province has become a theatre of operations for a host of warring factions in Syria's conflict, including government troops, US-backed opposition groups and extremist fighters.
Since August 29, rival jihadists allied with rebel groups have been waging a major offensive northwest of the provincial capital.
Jund al-Aqsa, recently labelled a terrorist organisation by the United States, and other rebels are fighting to link territory they control in Hama province with the opposition bastion of Idlib province further north.
They have dispatched reinforcements from Idlib, held by an alliance led by Fateh al-Sham Front, which changed its name from Al-Nusra Front after renouncing its ties to Al-Qaeda.
Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP that "the regime and its Russian ally are bombing Idlib non-stop" in a bid to choke off the offensive on Hama.