DAMASCUS, Syria — A suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden truck in a central, Shiite Syrian village on Monday, state media reported, killing at least six in the latest attack to underscore the growing sectarian nature of the country's nearly three-year-old conflict.
Three children and a woman were among the dead in the early morning bombing at a school in Sabtiyeh, near the city of Homs, official news agency SANA said, adding that some 40 people were also wounded.
Footage aired on state television showed panicked residents rushing to ambulances carrying wounded children. Facades of buildings were ripped away and cars lay smashed.
"What did these children do to be killed?" a man angrily shouted.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the blast, but such bombings are the hallmark of al-Qaida-linked groups who have joined Syrian rebels battling to overthrow the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad.
Syria's war began as mostly peaceful demonstrations against Assad's rule, but turned into an armed rebellion after government troops violently suppressed demonstrations. The country is formed of a mosaic of different sects, and the conflict has largely split the country along sectarian lines.
Rebels are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslims, while Christians and other Muslim sects have for the most part either stood with Assad's government or remained neutral or involved in peaceful activism.
Hard-line Sunni Muslim extremists, some of them foreign fighters, have powerful fighting units and appear to dominate rebel-held parts of northern Syria. Shiite fighters from Lebanon's Hezbollah militia and from Iraq have shored up Assad's forces, in part to protect their minority and holy sites in Syria.
All warring sides have used sectarian incitement and have blockaded civilians in villages seen as loyal to one side or the other. Al-Qaida forces in particular have desecrated churches, smashed shrines used by other Muslim sects and have kidnapped priests.
But attacks specifically targeting civilians of other sects are infrequent, said Rami Abdurrahman of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the uprising through a network of activists on the ground.
Abdurrahman said that because no fighting was known to have taken place in the village previously, he believed it was targeted because of its sectarian affiliation.
The Shiite village was known for having good relations with nearby Sunni communities, he said.
Syria's Shiite Muslims form a tiny minority scattered in villages throughout the north and around the capital Damascus, making them particularly vulnerable.
Also Monday, Syria's antiquities chief said thieves specializing in the country's artifacts had robbed a storehouse containing mosaics and potteries in the rebel-held area of Raqqa.
Mamoun Abdul-Karim said the theft occurred Saturday at a storehouse of the Herqla archaeological site in the northeast province of al-Raqqa. Abdul-Karim said the artifacts were stolen at gunpoint as villagers looked on. He said the thieves sped to neighboring Turkey, and he blamed the government there for not preventing the theft of Syrian artifacts.
Syria has an extremely rich cultural and archaeological heritage, including remains of the Greco-Roman civilization, grand Islamic dynasties and the crusades. Ancient castles and markets have been bombed and destroyed during the conflict, while an unknowable number of artifacts have been stolen by thieves taking advantage of the violent chaos.
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