Several people killed in bus bombing in Syria's Homs

A bomb attack on a bus in Syria’s third city Homs killed five people and wounded at least seven on Wednesday, state media reported.

The blast hit a small bus carrying passengers in the Al-Zahraa neighbourhood, which has repeatedly been targeted in bombings.

Most of the neighborhood’s residents belong to the same Alawite religious sect as President Bashar Assad.

In December, four people were killed in a blast at a Red Crescent center in the neighbourhood, and in February a double bomb attack claimed by the Islamic State group killed 57 people.

Interviewed on state television, Homs governor Talal Barazi said four of those killed were female students heading to university on the bus.

Most of Homs is held by the government, with the exception of the Waer district, where the last phase of an evacuation is under way under a deal between the government and rebels.

Three waves of rebels and their families had already left Waer under an agreement first reached in December 2015, but subsequent evacuations stalled before a new deal was reached earlier this month.

The neighbourhood has been subject to a siege and bombardment by the army.

Rebel groups criticize so-called “reconciliation” deals like that agreed in Waer, saying they are forced into them by siege tactics.

But the government has touted the deals, which grant safe passage to rebels and their families in exchange for surrender of territory, as the best way to end the six-year civil war.

Homs was once dubbed the “capital of the revolution” because of the large-scale protests held in the city when the uprising began in March 2011.

The Syrian conflict began when the Baath regime, in power since 1963 and led by President Bashar al-Assad, responded with military force to peaceful protests demanding democratic reforms during the Arab Spring wave of uprisings, triggering an armed rebellion fueled by mass defections from the Syrian army.

According to independent monitors, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed in the war, mostly by the regime and its powerful allies, and millions have been displaced both inside and outside of Syria.

The brutal tactics pursued mainly by the regime, which have included the use of chemical weapons, sieges, mass executions and torture against civilians have led to war crimes investigations.