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Mosque bombing kills al Qaida men

A bomb has exploded inside a mosque where al Qaida's branch in Syria was holding a fast-breaking meal, killing at least 14, activists said.

The blast in the Salem Mosque in the northern town of Ariha reportedly occurred shortly after sunset last night when scores of Nusra Front members had gathered to break their fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the explosion killed 31 Nusra Front members including five commanders.

Syria-based activist Ahmad al-Ahmad said 15 Nusra Front fighters were killed and more than 30 wounded.

The differences in casualty estimates could not be immediately explained since the Nusra Front cordoned off the area.

Meanwhile, Syrian troops backed by members of Lebanon's Hezbollah group continued a major offensive under the cover of intense air strikes to retake a rebel-held mountain resort.

Taking the rebel-held town of Zabadani would tighten Hezbollah's grip on Syrian territories bordering Lebanon and would strengthen the Syrian government's control of the Beirut-Damascus highway.

Zabadani has been held by rebels since shortly after Syria's crisis began in March 2011. The conflict has killed more than 220,000 people and wounded at least a million, according to the United Nations.

Opposition fighters retaliated by shelling the capital Damascus.

The shells struck several neighbourhoods including the central Baghdad Street district. Another shell hit the famous Dama Rose hotel, previously Le Meridien, near the upmarket neighbourhood of Abu Rummaneh.

The shelling caused damage to the hotel shattering some of its windows. The Syrian state news agency reported that one person was killed and two wounded.

Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV aired footage from the battlefield showing smoke billowing from much of Zabadani as shells and missiles struck the town.

Al-Manar said Hezbollah fighters and Syrian troops are attacking from several directions, adding that rebels are isolated inside Zabadani, which is surrounded by mountains.

Syrian state TV quoted an unnamed military official as saying that "terrorists suffered large losses".

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government air forces conducted 15 air strikes this morning. It said the attack was being conducted by Hezbollah and Syria's elite 4th Division.

The Observatory said the resort was subjected to more than 90 air strikes yesterday.


From Belfast Telegraph