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Explosion kills 31 pro-government fighters at Syrian air base

State news agency says blast caused by technical fault during transport of expired ammunition, while opposition monitor says cause still unclear
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, has been accused of killing hundreds of thousands and displacing millions of Syrians since the beginning of uprising against him in 2011 (AFP)

An explosion killed at least 31 pro-Syrian government fighters at the Shayrat airbase in Homs province on Saturday, according to Syrian state media and an opposition monitoring group.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is based in Britain and relies on a network of sources on the ground, said it was unclear what had caused the deadly explosion at the Shayrat airbase in Homs province, AFP reported.

Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the monitoring group, said the death toll was likely to increase because many people had sustained critical injuries.

Earlier, the official news agency SANA reported that a "technical fault during the transport of expired ammunition" had killed an unspecified number of victims at the military base, a key installation in central Syria.

The Shayrat airbase is one of the government's most significant installations in the centre of the country.

Iranian fighters - who support the government in Syria's ongoing civil war - are based there, according to the Observatory.

The base was the target of US air strikes in 2017 after the CIA concluded it was the source of a suspected chemical attack that killed more than 80 people at an opposition-held town in northwest Syria. 

The war in Syria has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.