8 dead in car bomb at north Syria market: monitor

Rescuers check the wreckage of a car at the scene of a bomb explosion in the norther Syrian city of Azaz, early on March 31, 2024 (Bakr ALKASEM)
Rescuers check the wreckage of a car at the scene of a bomb explosion in the norther Syrian city of Azaz, early on March 31, 2024 (Bakr ALKASEM)

A bomb exploded in a shopping area in a northern Syrian city held by pro-Turkish forces Sunday, killing eight people and wounding more than 20, a war monitor said.

The blast in Azaz, Aleppo province, occurred not long after midnight as crowds were out shopping late during the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, an AFP correspondent said.

The group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that "eight people were killed and 23 others wounded" when "a car bomb exploded in the middle of a popular market".

The Britain-based Observatory, which has a network of sources inside Syria, said the blast caused "significant damage" and sparked a fire.

Bombings and other security incidents are common in areas held by pro-Turkish forces in northern Syria, where rivalries among armed factions and the risk of attacks by Islamic State group jihadists exacerbate an already tenuous security situation after years of war.

The AFP correspondent saw emergency responders working at the scene and the remains of a mangled vehicle.

Khaled al-Nowmeh, 36, who has a pharmacy in Azaz, said he, his wife and children had gone to the market to buy clothes when the blast struck.

"We heard the sound and we ran... my son started crying," he said, lamenting the recurring security incidents in the region.

Thaer Hafar, 34, who works at a store in Azaz, said he and his family were on their way to the market when the explosion hit.

"All we heard was the blast," he said, adding that people were terrified there could be a second car bomb.

"There's no security or safety," he told AFP, adding that "even if we're at home, we're afraid".

- Checkpoints tightened -

A local military police official, requesting anonymity as they were not authorised to speak to the media, said it was unclear who was behind the blast, with Kurdish forces, IS or other armed groups among the potential suspects.

Police have "tightened all checkpoints" and were checking security cameras, the official added.

Syria's war began after the government repressed peaceful protests in 2011 and escalated into a deadly conflict that drew in jihadists and foreign armies.

The war has killed more than 507,000 people, displaced millions and battered the country's infrastructure and industry.

Turkish troops and their Syrian proxies hold swathes of the border, including several major cities and towns such as Azaz.

Turkey has launched successive military offensives in Syria, most of them targeting Kurdish militants that Ankara links to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

The Observatory said that earlier this month, a man was killed and two military police were wounded when a car bomb exploded at a checkpoint at the border town of Al-Rai east of Azaz.

It was unclear who had planted the device.

Days ago several IS members escaped from a prison in the Afrin area west of Azaz, according to the Observatory, noting that a similar incident had occurred last year.