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Syria: At least 20 killed in clashes between rival groups in Daraa

Unrest broke out in the southern region a day after an explosion that saw at least seven children killed
A picture taken during a tour organised by the Syrian Ministry of Information shows Syrian soldiers at a checkpoint in the district of Daraa al-Balad of Syria's southern city of Daraa, on 12 September 2021 (Louai Beshara/AFP)

At least 20 people have been killed in Syria's Daraa province in clashes between rival armed groups, a day after a blast which killed at least seven children.

An "explosive device" was detonated in the city of Sanamayn in Daraa province on Saturday, state media agency SANA reported quoting a police source, resulting in the deaths of several children and the injuries of "two other people... one of them a woman".

The UK-based war monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), also reported on the blast, saying that militias were accused of planting the device in order to target an unidentified person in the area.

According to the monitor, an individual identified as Ahmad al-Labbad, who "leads an armed group", was accused by a rival group of being responsible. Labbad, who previously worked for the security services, denied the accusations.

The rival group, which according to SOHR is led by an individual who "formerly belonged to the Islamic State (IS) group and who now works for the military intelligence services" stormed part of Sanamayn and came into conflict with Labbad and his supporters.

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The fighting has left 20 dead, including a former member of IS, three members of the Labbad family and 12 of the group's fighters, while a civilian was also killed by a stray bullet, with clashes continuing on Sunday afternoon.

Protests erupted in Daraa in 2011 after a group of teenagers was arrested over anti-regime graffiti. A Russian-backed ceasefire deal in 2018, however, saw the city return to regime control. 

The province has been wracked by poor living conditions and violence since.

More than 507,000 people have been killed across the country since the war began, while millions have been displaced.

According to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), Syria poses one of the largest displacement crises in the world, with over 12 million Syrians displaced and over 5.4 million living as refugees in neighbouring countries.

UNHCR states that over 14.6 million people in the country are in need of humanitarian assistance, with the economic situation deteriorating significantly due to the Covid-19 pandemic, devaluation of the Syrian pound, rising inflation and hikes in fuel prices.

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