Attacks hit 2 major Syrian cities, kill 54 people

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In this photo which AP obtained from the Syrian official news agency SANA, and has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, damages are seen after a series of mortar shells hit Damascus, killing more than a dozen people and wounding scores in Syria, Tuesday, April 29, 2014. The attacks in the Syrian capital came a day after President Bashar Assad announced his candidacy for the June 3 presidential election. (AP Photo/SANA)

In this photo which AP obtained from the Syrian official news agency SANA, and has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, damages are seen after a series of mortar shells hit Damascus, killing more than a dozen people and wounding scores in Syria, Tuesday, April 29, 2014. The attacks in the Syrian capital came a day after President Bashar Assad announced his candidacy for the June 3 presidential election. (AP Photo/SANA)

In this photo which AP obtained from the Syrian official news agency SANA, and has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, doctors treat a wounded Syrian boy at a hospital in Damascus, Syria, Tuesday, April 29, 2014. A series of mortar shells slammed into central Damascus on Tuesday, killing more than a dozen people and wounding scores, state media reported. The attacks in the Syrian capital came a day after President Bashar Assad announced his candidacy for the June 3 presidential election. (AP Photo/SANA)

In this photo which AP obtained from the Syrian official news agency SANA, and has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, a wounded Syrian boy lays on a hospital bed to receive treatment in Damascus, Syria, Tuesday, April 29, 2014. A series of mortar shells slammed into central Damascus on Tuesday, killing more than a dozen people and wounding scores, state media reported. The attacks in the Syrian capital came a day after President Bashar Assad announced his candidacy for the June 3 presidential election. (AP Photo/SANA)

FILE – This Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2009 file photo shows Syrian President Bashar Assad, seen, during a meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, unseen, at the presidency in Tehran, Iran. Syrian parliament speaker says Assad has declared his candidacy for the June 3 presidential elections. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

This photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center (AMC), which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian people carry their belongings from a building that was hit by Syrian government airstrike in Aleppo , in Aleppo, Syria, Monday, April 28, 2014. Dozens of people were killed and wounded in fighting between pro-Assad forces and rebels in the northern city of Aleppo on Sunday, reported the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The fight for Aleppo is particularly important now, with analysts saying they expect Assad’s forces will try wrest as much of the city as possible before elections. (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center AMC)

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DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Two car bombs exploded in a pro-government neighborhood in the central Syrian city of Homs Tuesday, killing at least 40 people just hours after one of the deadliest mortar strikes in the heart of the capital, Damascus, killed 14, officials and state media said.

The attacks came a day after President Bashar Assad declared his candidacy for the June 3 presidential elections, a race he is likely to win amid a raging civil war that initially started as an uprising against his rule. Such attacks are common in Homs and Damascus, and there was no immediate indication that Tuesday’s violence was directly related to Assad’s announcement.

State news agency SANA said the attack in Homs struck in the Abbasiyeh neighborhood — a predominantly Christian and Alawite area. It said at least 40 people were killed and another 116 wounded. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll from the double car bombing at 37, including five children. It said more than 80 were wounded.

Such discrepancies in casualty figures are common in Syria in the immediate aftermath of attacks.

Homs has been an opposition stronghold since the beginning of the uprising against Assad that erupted in March 2011. The city, Syria’s third largest, has been the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in the civil war that followed the initially peaceful revolt. A devastating government siege has squeezed rebels in the last outpost in the Old City, and the remaining fighters there have lashed back with suicide car bombings on pro-Assad areas.

In Damascus, several mortar shells slammed into the predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Shaghour in the morning hours, killing 14 people and wounding 86, Syria’s official SANA news agency and state TV reported. The Observatory said 17 people were killed.

It was one of the deadliest mortar attacks in central Damascus since the conflict began in March 2011.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks Tuesday.

Rebels fighting to oust Assad from power have frequently fired mortars into the capital from opposition-held suburbs, many of which have been under a crippling government blockade for months, with no food and medicine allowed to reach trapped civilians inside.

Armed opposition groups have also attacked Syria’s cities with car bombs in the past months. An al-Qaida-linked group has previously claimed responsibility for several car bombs in the capital and other cities.

SANA blamed the attacks on terrorists — a term used by Assad’s government for rebels.

Also Tuesday, the international chemical weapons watchdog said it will send a team to Syria to investigate recent allegations about the use of chlorine gas in the war.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said in a statement that the Syrian government has agreed to the mission, and will provide security in areas under its control. The OPCW the team is expected to depart for Syria soon.

Syrian opposition forces have accused the government of attacking rebel-held areas with chlorine gas

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