Blast in southern Syria kills 21, activists say

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad, third left, prays on the first day of Eid al-Adha at the Sayeda Hassiba mosque, in Damascus, Syria, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013. (AP Photo/SANA)

BEIRUT (AP) — An explosion struck a vehicle packed with passengers traveling in southern Syria overnight, killing at least 21 people, including four children, activists said Wednesday.

The deaths came as Muslims observe the holiday of Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, and underscored just how relentless the violence in Syria's civil war is. Since its outbreak in March 2011, the conflict has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people, and forced some 7 million to flee their homes.

The blast hit the vehicle around midnight Tuesday as it was driving near Tel al-Juma in Daraa province, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Six women were also among the dead, it added. It was unclear what kind of vehicle was involved.

It was not immediately clear what caused the explosion, nor why a group of women and children were traveling in dangerous and disputed territory in the middle of the night.

The Observatory said local activists accuse government troops, who are stationed at an army outpost in the area besieged by rebels, of planting explosives by the roadside. However, roadside bombs are frequently used by rebels to target highways traveled by regime forces.

The Observatory also reported government shelling in Daraa province and the rebel-held suburbs of Damascus, as well as air raids in the central province of Hama and Idlib province in the north. There was no immediate word on casualties.

Syria's revolt began with largely peaceful protests against President Bashar Assad but later descended into civil war. Now in its third year, the conflict has carved the country up into rebel- and regime-controlled areas, with front-lines crisscrossing the country.