DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Car bombs struck two small villages in the central Syrian province of Hama on Friday, killing 18 people, including 11 children, state-run television said, the latest in relentless daily violence that is ravaging Syria.
The TV said the rigged vehicles exploded in the villages of Jadreen and Humayri in the morning hours. The villages are about a 20-minute drive, or 19 kilometers (11 miles) apart, but it wasn't immediately clear if the two attacks were coordinated.
Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the group's activists counted at least 15 dead from the blasts, including at least eight civilians.
Abdurrahman said he wasn't aware so far of any children being killed in the two attacks but conflicting death tolls are common after large bombings.
The increasing use of car bombs has added another grim dimension to Syria's bloody conflict, now in its fourth year. The war began as an uprising in March 2011 against the rule of President Bashar Assad, but is now a full-fledged civil war, with over 150,000 people killed in the violence.
The war has also taken on sectarian tones. Rebels are overwhelmingly from the country's Sunni majority, and powerful fighting brigades include Islamic extremists such as the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front. Syrian Muslim and Christian minorities have either remained neutral or supported Assad, fearing for their fate should hard-liners come to power.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Friday's bombings. But the Nusra Front has claimed responsibility for several car bombings in recent weeks that have overwhelmingly killed civilians, including a double car bombing in a pro-government district in the central city of Homs and a mortar strike in Damascus that killed at least 54 people on Tuesday.
Rebels also fire mortars, which cannot be precisely aimed, into residential areas, inflicting civilian casualties. Government forces have also dumped crude bombs on rebel-held residential areas — one such attack killed at least 33 people in a crowded market place in the northern city of Aleppo on Thursday, and a missile that hit an Aleppo school on Wednesday killed at least 19 people, including 10 children.
On Thursday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch condemned both attacks.
"The deliberate targeting of civilians is a war crime, and if carried out in a widespread or systematic way amounts to crimes against humanity," the group said. It called on the U.N. Security Council, which has been unable to stop the conflict in Syria, to impose an arms embargo on any groups implicated in systematic human rights abuses, including the Syrian government.
A Homs-based activist who uses the name Bassel Darwish said there was frequent fighting between the government-controlled villages of Jadreen and Humayri, and nearby opposition-loyal villages of Tilif and Harfnafsi.
Darwish said many of Syria's chaotic rebel factions, including the Nusra Front, operate in the area.
Hadid reported from Beirut.