Damascus. A bombing in northwest Syria killed more than 148 people on Monday, being claimed by the Islamic State group, the bloodiest attack till date in the regime’s coastal heartland.
Seven near-simultaneous blasts targeted bus stations, hospitals and other civilian sites in the seaside cities of Jableh and Tartus, which have been relatively protected from Syria’s five-year war.
One hundred people were killed in Jableh and another 48 in Tartus to the south, including children, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.
Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said they were "without a doubt the deadliest attacks" on the two cities since the start of the war.
The attacks on strangleholds of president Bashar al-Assad’s regime came as IS confronts increasing pressure in Syria and neighbor Iraq, where a major offensive to retake the jihadist-held city of Fallujah is underway.
IS claimed the blasts in a statement, saying they were in reprisal for Syrian regime and Russian air strikes against the jihadists and undertook to carry out "more shattering and bitter attacks".
IS ill-famed for using deadly sleeper cells to attack its enemies, suggested the creation of a "wilayat al-Sahel" or Islamic province for the coastal area.
"I'm shocked, this is the first time I hear sounds like this," said Mohsen Zayyoud, a 22-year-old student in Jableh.
"It's the first time we hear explosions in Tartus, and the first time we see dead people or body parts here," said Shady Osman.
The early morning attacks began at a bus station in Tartus, where regime ally Russia has long maintained a naval facility. The Observatory said a car bomb exploded and as people began to flock to the site two suicide bombers detonated explosive belts.
A police source in the city confirmed a car bomb had hit the entrance to the station and two suicide bombers attacked inside, while footage from state television showed charred mini-buses and other vehicles ablaze.
Around 15 minutes after the Tartus blasts, four explosions rocked Jableh further north.
The Observatory said a car bomb and three suicide attackers targeted the bus station, a hospital, and a power station.
One attacker detonated explosives inside the emergency room of the state-run hospital after carrying victims of the first attack there, and a police officer said a car bomb also targeted the Asaad hospital in the city.
IS has claimed deadly attacks in the West and throughout the Middle East, including twin bombings on military forces in Yemen's second city of Aden on Monday that killed at least 41 people.