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A string of suicide bombings near a Shiite shrine outside Syria's capital and in Homs claimed by jihadists killed at least 127 people Sunday, as Washington and Moscow worked to secure a ceasefire.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said a provisional deal had been reached on the terms of a truce in Syria's brutal five-year conflict, only for the bloodshed to intensify on the ground.
Near Damascus, the attacks, including a car bombing, ripped through the area of the Shiite shrine of Sayyida Zeinab and killed 68 people, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
And two car bombs killed at least 59 people and wounded dozens in the pro-regime district of Al-Zahraa in the central city of Homs, said the Britain-based monitoring group.
The Islamic State jihadist group said it was behind the day's carnage.
State television footage from Homs showed emergency workers carrying a charred body on a stretcher past devastated shops and mangled cars and minibuses.
Al-Zahraa -- whose residents are mostly from the same Alawite sect of Shia Islam as Syria's ruling clan -- has been regularly targeted.
IS said in an online statement that two jihadists drove explosive-laden cars into crowds of local residents.
Two more of its suicide bombers carried out the Sayyida Zeinab bombings, the Sunni extremist group said.
State television said a car bombing and two suicide attacks hit the area, killing 30 and wounding dozens in a preliminary toll, whereas the Observatory gave a death toll of 68 in four attacks.
An AFP reporter said the blasts struck about 400 metres (yards) from the shrine which contains the grave of a granddaughter of the Prophet Mohammed and is revered by Shiites.
At least 60 shops were damaged and cars reduced to mangled metal in the area, where a January attack also claimed by IS killed 70 people.
'Provisional' ceasefire deal
World powers have been pushing for a halt in fighting in Syria that was meant to take effect by last Friday, but have struggled to agree on the terms.
The latest bombings came as Kerry said he had spoken with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and agreed on how to implement a ceasefire in the conflict that has cost more than 260,000 lives.
"We have reached a provisional agreement, in principle, on the terms of the cessation of hostilities that could begin in the coming days," Kerry said on a visit to Amman.
"It is not yet done and I anticipate that our presidents, President (Barack) Obama and President (Vladimir) Putin, may well speak somewhere in the next days or so in order to try to complete this task."
The Russian foreign ministry later said on its Facebook page that Lavrov and Kerry held two more telephone conversations later Sunday and finalised the ceasefire terms to be submitted to their respective presidents.
World powers proposed the truce just over a week ago as part of a plan that also included expanded humanitarian access, in a bid to pave the way for peace talks to resume.
The talks, which collapsed earlier this month in Geneva, had been scheduled to resume on February 25, but the UN's Syria envoy has already acknowledged that date is no longer realistic.
On Saturday, key opposition umbrella group the High Negotiations Committee said it would agree a temporary truce only if regime backers halted fire.
HNC chief Riad Hijab said any ceasefire must be reached "with international mediation and with guarantees obliging Russia, Iran and their sectarian militias and mercenaries to stop fighting".
Assad, meanwhile, told Spain's El Pais newspaper he was "ready" for a ceasefire, but said it should not be exploited by "terrorists".
Turkey defends shelling Kurds
Regime backer Moscow is a key architect of the proposed ceasefire, but has shown little sign so far that it plans to rein in the air campaign it began in September in support of Assad's government.
On Saturday, the Kremlin said it would continue "to provide assistance and help to the armed forces of Syria in their offensive actions against terrorists".
Regime forces backed by Russian strikes were advancing on Sunday east of Aleppo city against IS, consolidating their control over a stretch of highway from the city to the Kweyris military base.
The Observatory said at least 50 IS fighters had been killed in clashes and Russian strikes since Saturday morning.
Tensions have been rising between Moscow and opposition-backer Ankara, alarmed by both the regime's Russian-backed advances and a major operation by Kurdish-led forces in Aleppo province.
The Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and their Arab partners have in recent days seized key territory from rebel forces in Aleppo, prompting Turkey to shell their positions.
Ankara considers the YPG to be an affiliate of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.
It fears the Kurdish advances are intended to link up areas in north and northeast Syria to create a contiguous semi-autonomous Kurdish zone along the Syrian-Turkish border.
On Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan defended his country's fight against the YPG as "legitimate defence" after international calls for Ankara to halt its military action in Syria.
No matter how you do it travel always involves you in some form of danger, from the time you step out of your front door and commence your travels you are at risk.
Theorists say that you are most at risk When you travel in a car than any other form of transport, this includes commercial airline travel which you might think is dangerous, train travel is inherently safe and whilst there are things to worry about on cruise ships the chance of you losing your life is quite small.
The close proximity of other passengers on a commercial airline puts you at risk of infectious or contagious disease vectors, this is true of trains but to a lesser degree and cruise ships are notorious for the transmission of food poisoning in such a confined area, apart from the fact you are quite likely to suffer from seasickness the thought of being confined in a contagious area is very troublesome.
Then there’s the fact that plenty of good food is always available and being able to eat as much as you like for weeks at a time is certainly not going to do your waistline any good at all, but that’s all down to discipline and exercise,
Despite how the cruise pundits like to spin things, you can’t deny there are environmental costs to this controversial industry. The 16 major cruise lines generated over 1 billion gallons of sewage in 2014, much of it raw or poorly treated. One cruise ship can produce 13 million cars worth of CO2 in one day. Sewage, grey water, oily bilge water and air emissions are a concern both while at sea and docked in port. Lax laws and regulations mean ships can dump sewage into international waters three miles offshore from the hot spots they promote as vacation destinations. These behemoth vessels often overwhelm small ports and undermine the very natural beauty and culture they’re trying to sell. There are some signs of improvement, as newer energy-efficient ships boast better waste-treatment technology. But 40% of the fleet plying the waters today are older vessels with 35 year old waste-treatment systems. There’s little transparency provided by various cruise lines on this issue, which just stirs up these murky waters. If you’re at all concerned about responsible travel and the ocean environment, you might want to think twice about cruising.
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