BEIRUT (AP) — A car bomb exploded near a mosque north of the Syrian capital as worshippers emerged from Friday prayers, killing at least 30 people, activists said.
The blast, which struck outside the al-Sahel mosque in the town of Rankous, also wounded dozens of people, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It was not clear whether the mosque itself was the target of the attack.
Mohammed Saeed, an activist in the eastern Damascus suburb of Douma, and the Observatory's director Rami Abdul-Rahman both said the town is held neither by the rebels nor by the regime in Syria's civil war. Abdul-Rahman said residents have an agreement with the rebels not to bring weapons into Rankous in order to avoid government shelling.
Saeed, who is in contact with activists in Rankous, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Damascus, said residents held funerals for some of those killed in the bombing, in line with Islamic tradition that calls for a prompt burial. As people marched in one funeral, several rockets fired by government troops fell nearby, wounding some of the mourners, he said.
Car bombs, shelling and airstrikes have become common in Syria's civil war, which has killed more than 100,000 people and driven another 7 million — around a third of the country's pre-war population — from their homes since March 2011. The conflict has heavily damaged cities and Syria's social fabric as it has taken on increasingly dark sectarian overtones, pitting a primarily Sunni Muslim rebel movement against a regime dominated by President Bashar Assad's Alawite sect.
The fighting has shown no sign of abating, and could complicate the mission of U.N. experts who are back in Syria this week to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons earlier this year.
The United Nations said Friday the team will investigate a total of seven sites of purported chemical attacks, four more than previously known. The announcement from the U.N. office in Damascus came a day after the five permanent members of the Security Council agreed on a resolution to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons.
The draft agreed upon on Thursday by Russia, China, the United States, France and Britain includes two legally binding demands — that Syria abandons its chemical stockpile and allows unfettered access to the chemical weapons experts. If Syria fails to comply, the draft says the Security Council would need to adopt a second resolution to impose possible military and other actions on Damascus.
In Damascus, the U.N. office said the experts, who returned to Syria on Wednesday, are continuing to work "on a comprehensive report that it hopes will be ready by late October."
"The report is based on a number of allegations presented to the United Nation Secretary General, of which seven have been found to warrant investigation," it said. The statement also said the U.N. experts have received several documents and samples and have conducted many interviews.
The team initially went to Syria last month to investigate three alleged chemical attacks earlier this year. But just days into their visit, the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Ghouta was hit by a chemical attack, and the inspectors turned their attention to investigating that case.
Their inquiry determined that the nerve agent sarin was used in the Aug. 21 attack, but it did not assess who was behind the rocket barrage.
Among the new sites the team plans to investigate is the northern town of Khan al-Assal, outside the city of Aleppo. Assad's government and Syrian rebels have traded accusations of chemical weapons use in an attack there on March 19.
The team also plans to look into allegations of chemical agents being used in the Damascus neighborhood of Jobar, the northern town of Saraqeb, the Sheik Maksoud neighborhood of Aleppo and three other sites.
Associated Press writer Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, contributed to this report.