Oct 1, 10:39 AM EDT

Syria blasts at school kill 22, including 10 kids


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DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- Twin car bombings near a school in Syria killed 22 people on Wednesday, including at least 10 children, with the second exploding as parents frantically searched for their sons and daughters in a street littered with school bags and body parts.

Syria's children are frequently among the victims of attacks in the country's civil war, but on Wednesday they appear to have been the target. The first vehicle exploded as children were leaving school, and the second struck as adults carried away bodies, sending a new wave of panic through the crowd.

The blasts occurred outside the Ekremah al-Makhzoumi elementary school in a government-controlled area of Homs dominated by minority Alawites, the Shiite offshoot sect to which President Bashar Assad's family belongs. It was one of the deadliest strikes to hit the area in months.

"Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! Take him to the hospital!" one man shouted, as another appeared to drag away a child by his arms, in footage shared on a pro-government Facebook group. The footage appeared genuine and was consistent with Associated Press reporting of events.

Two little girls and a boy screamed and cried as they were carried away. Other people rushed about, narrowly avoiding a child's severed head lying on the road. Smoke billowed from a burning vehicle.

As one boy tugged on a man's hand as if to run from the site, another blast was heard. A young girl covered her ears as others screamed and ran away. "Oh God! Oh God!" one man hoarsely shouted.

A local official confirmed the casualty figures and said another 56 people were wounded in the attack. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media. State-run media outlet SANA also reported the bombings, as did the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which gathers information from a network of activists inside Syria.

SANA and the Britain-based Observatory gave similar death tolls, although they did not say how many children were among the casualties.

Homs Governor Talal Barazi described the blasts as a "terrorist act and a desperate attempt that targeted school children."

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Wednesday's attack but Syrian rebels fighting to oust Assad have carried out similar bombings during the country's civil war.

All sides in the conflict have carried out horrific attacks on civilians during the conflict -- now in its fourth year -- but rarely have children appeared to be the direct target.

In May, Syrian government forces bombed a complex in the northern city of Aleppo that housed a school alongside a rebel compound. At least 19 people, including 10 children, were killed in that incident.

Meanwhile, the Observatory reported Wednesday that militants of the Islamic State group beheaded nine Kurdish fighters, including three women, captured in clashes near the Syria-Turkey border.

They were captured during the heavy fighting over the northern Syrian town of Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, the Observatory said. The chief Kurdish group fighting in Syria, known as the YPG, advocates gender equality, and women fight alongside men.

Kurdish forces have been locked in fierce clashes with Islamic State militants in and around Kobani since the extremist group launched an assault in mid-September. The fighting over Kobani has created one of the single largest exoduses in Syria's civil war, with more than 160,000 people fleeing into Turkey, the U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said Tuesday.

Dozens of militants and Kurdish fighters were killed in clashes overnight, the Observatory said.

Images posted Wednesday on social media networks show women's heads placed on a cement block, said to be in the northern Syrian city of Jarablous, which is held by militants.

The photos could not be independently verified but corresponded to Associated Press reporting of the event.

The Islamic State group has pressed its assault on Kobani despite airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition on their positions. The U.S. has been bombing the Islamic State group across Syria since last week and in neighboring Iraq since early August.

The U.S. military said American warplanes conducted three airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria near Kobani overnight and Wednesday, destroying an armed vehicle, an artillery piece and a tank.

U.S. and British warplanes also carried out five airstrikes in neighboring Iraq, knocking out two armed vehicles, a militant-occupied building and two fighting positions northwest of Mosul, the country's second largest city, which fell to the Islamic State group in June.

One strike near the Haditha dam in Anbar province destroyed on armed vehicle, while another air raid outside Baghdad eliminated two armed vehicles.

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Hadid reported from Beirut. Follow Diaa Hadid on twitter.com/diaahadid

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