30 killed in suicide bombing at Syrian government checkpoint

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A suicide truck bomb attack on a government checkpoint on the edge of the city of Hama in central Syria has left 30 dead, according to state media and activists.

State news agency Sana said Syrian rebels drove the truck laden with over a ton of explosives into the post at the eastern entrance of the city.

Sana said the explosion appeared to have set ablaze a fuel truck nearby, increasing the damage and casualties.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the al Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, or al-Nusra Front, had carried out the attack.

The attack came as Arab League chief Nabil el-Araby said a key international conference aimed at ending Syria’s civil war will be held in Geneva on November 23 and 24. Mr el-Araby made the announcement at a news conference in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, after talks with the Arab League-UN envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi. The Geneva conference is an attempt to get sides to agree on a transitional government in Syria based on a plan adopted in that city in June 2012.

Syria’s conflict, now into its third year, has left over 100,000 dead.

Meanwhile two Turkish pilots kidnapped in Lebanon have been freed as part of a deal that saw nine abducted Lebanese pilgrims in Syria released from captivity, officials said.

Turkish Airlines pilots Murat Akpinar and Murat Agca had been held by militants since their kidnapping in August in Beirut.

The Turks’ release is part of a negotiated hostage deal that included the freeing of the kidnapped pilgrims, as well as dozens of women held in Syrian government jails.

The nine Shiite pilgrims, kidnapped in May 2012 while on their way from Iran to Lebanon via Turkey and Syria, were expected to arrive in Beirut later on Saturday night. They are currently at Istanbul’s international airport.

Residents of the mostly Shiite southern suburb of Beirut fired celebratory gunfire into the air, waved the Lebanese national flag and recited poetry in anticipation of seeing their loved ones.

Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said that the pilgrims should arrive at the international airport in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut. “It’s a wedding for us, it’s a celebration,” Mr Charbel said from the airport.

The pilgrims were held by Syrian rebels who initially demanded that the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah end its involvement in the Syria’s civil war, now entering its third year. They later softened their demands to the release of imprisoned women held by security forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.

The deal appeared to be mostly mediated by the state of Qatar, assisted by Palestinian officials.