BEIRUT (AP) — A twin bombing attack targeting Kurds celebrating their New Year on Friday killed at least 20 people and wounded more than 70 in a northeast Syrian city, activist groups and state media said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said one of the attacks was carried out by a suicide bomber who belonged to the Islamic State group, and the other was a bomb planted in a nearby area. Twenty people were killed and 80 wounded, the group said.
Syrian state TV quoted the governor of Hassakeh province as saying that the bombings killed 22 and wounded more than 70. The station said hospitals in the city were urging people to donate blood.
Kurdish fighters have been battling the Islamic State group for months, leaving hundreds dead. The main Kurdish militia known as the People's Protection Units, or YPG, has been advancing recently in Hassakeh province. It is a predominantly Kurdish area but the Islamic State group holds parts of the region, which borders Turkey and Iraq.
YPG fighters, with the help of airstrikes from the U.S.-led coalition, have evicted IS fighters from the northern Syrian town of Kobani and dozens of nearby villages over the past two months.
Although the Islamic State group did not immediately claim responsibility for the bombings, they were a likely culprit due to their many recent attacks on military and civilian targets in the area.
A spokesman said in a statement that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attacks. "These heinous attacks took place during a holiday that is customarily a time for Kurdish communities to come together to share their hopes for the new year," the statement reads.
Ekrem Hasso, an official in northeastern Syria's Kurdish region, also blamed IS and said some of the wounded were being rushed to hospitals in the nearby city of Qamishli as well as the towns of Amouda and Dirbasiyeh. He said more than 50 people were killed and dozens wounded.
"Hassakeh hospitals are flooded with casualties," Hasso said by telephone from Amouda. He added that Kurdish forces are on high alert in much of northern Syria for fear of more attacks.
Ghalia Nehme, another official in Syria's Kurdish region, said one of the attacks occurred in a main square in the city of Hassakeh.
Kurdish authorities had announced earlier that no official celebrations will be held for Kurdish New Year, known as Nowruz, due to security concerns, Nehme said. People were celebrating Friday on their own, she said.
"God willing on the eve of this feast all the people will live in peace and there be no such massacres," Nehme told The Associated Press by telephone from northern Syria.
Kurds are the largest ethnic minority in Syria, making up more than 10 percent of the country's 23 million people. They are centered in Hassakeh and Qamishli provinces. The capital Damascus and Syria's largest city, Aleppo, also have several predominantly Kurdish neighborhoods.
In another development, the Observatory said that some 70 troops and pro-government fighters have been killed in attacks by Islamic State militants in the central province of Homs over the past three days. The Islamic State group also sustained casualties in the clashes east of Homs city, it added.
Follow Bassem Mroue on Twitter at http://twitter.com/bmroue