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50 killed in bomb attack

Two car bombs exploded in a pro-government neighbourhood in the central Syrian city of Homs Tuesday, killing at least 36 people just hours after one of the deadliest mortar strikes in the heart of the capital, Damascus, killed 14, officials and state media said.

The attacks came a day after President Bashar Assad declared his candidacy for the June 3 presidential elections, a race he is likely to win amid a raging civil war that initially started as an uprising against his rule. Such attacks are common in Homs and Damascus, and there was no immediate indication that Tuesday's violence was directly related Assad's announcement.

A Syrian government official said two car bombs in Homs exploded in the city's predominantly Alawite district of Zahra. Along with the 36 killed, 85 people were wounded in the attack, the official told The Associated Press by telephone from Homs. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to media.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 37 people, including five children, were killed and that more than 80 were wounded in the double car bombing Homs. Syria state TV only said the car bomb in Homs caused "a large number" of casualties.

In Damascus, several mortar shells slammed into the predominantly Shiite neighbourhood of Shaghour in the morning hours, killing 14 people and wounding 86, Syria's official SANA news agency and state TV reported.

It was one of the deadliest mortar attacks in central Damascus since the conflict began in March 2011.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the Homs and Damascus attacks Tuesday.

Rebels fighting to oust Assad from power have frequently fired mortars into the capital from opposition-held suburbs. Armed opposition groups have also attacked Syria's cities with car bombs in the past months. An al-Qaida-linked group has previously claimed responsibility for several car bombs in the capital and other cities.

Many of the opposition-held neighbourhoods around Damascus have been under a crippling government blockade for months, with no food and medicine allowed to reach trapped civilians inside.

SANA blamed the attacks on terrorists — a term used by Assad's government for rebels.

The Observatory also reported the mortar attack in Damascus, saying 17 people were killed. The group, which tracks the conflict through a network of activists on the ground, said the death toll was likely to rise because of the many wounded.

The conflicting numbers could not immediately be reconciled but different casualty tolls are common in the immediate aftermath of large bombings.

The Canadian Press

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