Syrian rebels confirmed that a huge explosion in the city of Homs Thursday was caused by their rockets slamming into a weapons depot, an attack that killed as many as 40 people and wounded more than 160.
Among the dead were government soldiers and civilians. The Los Angeles Times reported that an additional 160 were injured, many of them critically, after the rebels launched rockets into the Wadi Thahab neighborhood and two other districts
, inhabited mostly by Alawites, members of President Bashar Assad’s minority sect, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition monitoring group.
The Haqq Brigade, one of the largest rebel groups in Homs, claimed responsibility for the attack on the country’s Army Foundation Day, the newspaper reported. The brigade is part of the Syrian Islamic Front, made up of Islamist rebel groups across the country.
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reported the explosion happened in the southeastern district of Wadi al-Dhahab of which the Syrian army had recently taken control.
reported that unverified footage apparently showed the strike blasting a huge fireball high into the air above the city, and causing secondary explosions.
A member of the observation group told Aljazeera.com he could not confirm that the blast came from the city's arms depot, but the explosion was "massive." Video showed the large fire cloud forming against the blue sky.
Homs residents told Aljazeera.com that multiple explosions followed which could be heard for more than an hour.
The Associated Press said firefighters battled flames for more than two hours after the explosion.
"The first explosion knocked people off their feet," one Homs resident told the AP.
Earlier in the day, Assad praised his troops while in Daraya, his first known public trip outside of Damascus since March 2012. Syrian state-run TV said Assad had visited Daraya to inspect his troops for the country's Army Day.
Daraya, just south of Damascus, was a rebel stronghold until the Syrian army recaptured it earlier this year.
The TV station did not provide details, but the presidency's Facebook page released a photo of Assad in a blue suit and tie chatting with two soldiers in front of a damaged building.
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