BEIRUT - A suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden car Saturday in Syria's central city of Homs, tearing through an area largely populated by the regime's Alawite sect and killing seven people, a state-owned TV station reported.
Meanwhile, government troops took control of a key village as the regime pressed its offensive to clear a path between Damascus and the Mediterranean.
With the help of Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, President Bashar Assad's regime has been chasing rebels from long-held strategic areas linking the capital, Damascus, with the government stronghold areas along Mediterranean coast. It gained momentum this week after seizing the strategic city of Qusair, and the army has begun advancing north toward the cities of Homs and Aleppo.
Syrian state TV said Saturday that government troops took also control of the village of Buwaydah between Qusair and Homs after intensive clashes.
Abu Bilal al-Homsi, an activist in the old quarter of the city of Homs who has links with several rebel groups, said via Skype that rebels sustained heavy losses late Friday as they attempted to flee the village with their wounded and civilians. Al-Homsi asked to be identified by his alias because of security concerns.
The state-owned Al-Ikhbariya TV said the attacker detonated the explosives-laden car in a busy area near a roundabout in the Homs neighborhood of Adawiya, which largely houses Alawites, members of a minority sect that is an offshoot of Shiite Islam. The report said the seven killed included three women and a teenager, and said 10 other people were wounded as the blast heavily damaged nearby houses and vehicles.
Television footage show-ed frantic residents running about, blood splattered on the ground and a badly mangled car. Other cars on the street were also damaged. A reporter from on the scene said the bomb-laden car carried about 220 pounds of explosives.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of informants inside Syria, confirmed that the car was booby-trapped. It also said seven were killed, citing preliminary reports.
Nobody claimed responsibility for the attack, but car bombs are the usual tactic employed by Sunni extremists among the rebel ranks.
The rebels are largely from Syria's Sunni Muslim majority and have been joined by Sunni fighters from other countries, while the government is backed by fighters from the Shiite militant Hezbollah group, making the conflict increasingly sectarian in nature.
Homs, the capital of the province of the same name, is home to one of the biggest Alawite communities in Syria and is widely seen as pro-Assad. The rebels are in control of the city center, including its old quarter, but are besieged by regime forces on the outskirts.
Many towns north of Homs also are rebel-controlled, but Hezbollah-backed government forces have been clearing rebels from villages and towns to the south.