21 killed as truck hit by powerful blast in south Syria

BEIRUT (AFP) - A powerful blast ripped through a pickup truck in the southern province of Daraa in Syria early on Wednesday, killing 21 people including four children, a monitoring group said.

"Twenty-one people were killed in the Nawa area (of Daraa), among them four children and six women, in a blast that detonated as their vehicle went past Tal al-Jumua," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

A battalion of troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "is positioned there, and is under siege by rebel forces. Activists blamed regime troops for planting the explosives", said the Britain-based group.

Daraa is the cradle of the uprising that broke out against Assad in March 2011.

More than 115,000 people have been killed in the war that broke out after Mr Assad's troops unleashed a brutal crackdown against protesters calling for political change.

Rebels fighting Mr Assad's troops have made significant progress in recent months in Daraa, which is strategically located on the border with Jordan and near Damascus province.

In the northeastern province of Hasake fierce clashes pitting Kurdish fighters against jihadists resumed, killing at least 10 Al-Qaeda fighters, the Observatory said.

Clashes have raged in majority Kurdish areas for months, as the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has sought to expel the Committees for the Protection of the Kurdish People from areas under their control.