Twin bombings near a school in central Syria killed at least 17 people on Wednesday, including 10 children, as gruesome images appeared on social media networks purported to show Kurdish fighters slain at the hands of Islamic State militants during battles near Syria's border with Turkey.
The bombs went off in the city of Homs, in a neighborhood dominated by minority Alawities, a Shiite offshoot sect that President Bashar Assad also belongs to. It was one of the deadliest strikes to hit the government-controlled area in months.
The blasts occurred just as the children were leaving at the end of class at the Ekremah al-Makhzoumi elementary school, according to an official with the Homs governorate.
A Syrian pro-government channel aired a brief footage of the aftermath, showing distraught parents rushing about frantically looking for their children, amid strewn schoolbags and blood stains on the ground. Black flames rose from a car nearby.
The explosions also wounded at least 56 people, said the local official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The first explosion was from a car bomb parked and detonated in front of the school, followed minutes later by a suicide bomber who drive by and detonated his explosives-laden car, said the official.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory also reported the bombings but said 18 people were killed and 40 wounded, though it did not say how many children were among the casualties. Conflicting tolls are common after bombings.
The Observatory chief Rami Abdurrahman said the death toll was likely to rise because of the severity of the injuries.
Homs Governor Talal Barazzi described the blasts as a "terrorist act and a desperate attempt that targeted school children."
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Wednesday's attack but Syrian rebels fighting to oust Assad have carried out such bombings during the country's civil war.
There have been horrific attacks against civilians by all sides throughout the brutal conflict, now in its fourth year, but rarely have children appeared to be the direct target. In May, Syrian government forces dropped a bomb in the northern city of Aleppo, hitting a complex that held a school alongside a rebel compound. At least 19 people, including 10 children were killed in that incident.
Meanwhile, the Observatory reported Wednesday that militants of the Islamic State group beheaded nine Kurdish fighters, including three women, captured in clashes near the Syria-Turkey border.
The Kurds were captured during fighting over the northern Syrian town of Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, the Observatory said. There have been fierce clashes around Kobani since mid-September, when the Islamic State group launched an assault to seize the area.
Dozens of militants and Kurdish fighters were killed in clashes overnight, the Observatory said but did not provide a breakdown.
Images posted Wednesday on social media networks show women's heads placed on a cement block, said to be in the northern Syrian city of Jarablous, which is held by militants.
The photos could not be independently verified but corresponded to The Associated Press' reporting of the event.
The Islamic State group has managed to push ahead with an assault, trying to take the beleaguered Kurdish town of Kobani despite U.S. airstrikes on their positions.
The fighting over Kobani has created one of the single largest exoduses in Syria's civil war, with more than 160,000 people fleeing into Turkey over the past few days, the U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said Tuesday.