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US Says Syrian Ceasefire Is Closer Than Ever, as Bombs Kill 140 People in One Day

Bombings in two Syria cities claimed by Islamic State killed at least 140 people, as US Secretary State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov reached a provisional ceasefire deal.

by VICE News and Reuters
Feb 22 2016, 10:25am

A wounded Syrian child at a hospital in Damascus, Syria, on February 21, 2016. Photo via SANA

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a series of bombings in the Syrian capital Damascus and the central city of Homs on Sunday which killed at least 140 people.

In Damascus, a car bombing followed by two other suicide bombs in the predominantly Shia district of Sayyidah Zaynab killed at least 83 people, according to Syrian state news agency SANA. As many as 178 others were injured. Syria's holiest Shia shrine is located in Sayyidah Zaynab.

The attacks occurred just a few hours after twin bombings that rocked the Homs neighborhood of al Zahra, killing around 60 people, mainly civilians according to monitoring groups. Al Zahra is a neighborhood home to religious minorities including Shias, Christians, and Alawites — a sect to which President Bashar al Assad belongs — and has been targeted multiple times by bombers.

Related: In Photos: The Grim Aftermath of Twin Car Bomb Blasts in the Syrian City of Homs

Meanwhile US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday he and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, had reached a provisional agreement on terms of a cessation of hostilities in Syria and the sides were closer to a ceasefire than ever before.

Russian air strikes launched in September against rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad have exacerbated suffering and destruction in Syria, where a five-year-old civil war has killed more than a quarter of a million people.

Assad said on Saturday he was ready for a ceasefire on condition "terrorists" did not use a lull in fighting to their advantage and that countries backing the insurgents stopped supporting them.

The Syrian opposition had earlier said it had agreed to the "possibility" of a temporary truce, provided there were guarantees Damascus's allies, including Russia, would cease fire, sieges were lifted and aid deliveries were allowed country-wide.

Related: Russia Is Killing a Lot of Civilians in Syria — But the US Coalition Allegedly Is Too

"We have reached a provisional agreement in principle on the terms of a cessation of hostilities that could begin in the coming days," Kerry told a news conference in Amman with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.

"The modalities for a cessation of hostilities are now being completed. In fact, we are closer to a ceasefire today than we have been," said Kerry, who was also to meet King Abdullah.

He declined to go into detail about the unresolved issues, saying the two sides were "filling out the details" of the agreement. And he indicated issues remained to be resolved and he did not expect any immediate change on the ground.

He repeated the US position that Assad had to step down. "With Assad there, this war cannot and will not end," he said.

Related: Russia Denies 'War Crimes' After Hospitals and Schools Were Bombed in Syria