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story.lead_photo.caption FILE - In this Sept. 19, 2013, file photo, smoke rises after a TNT bomb was thrown from a helicopter, hitting a rebel position during heavy fighting between troops loyal to president Bashar Assad and opposition fighters, in a neighbouring village to Kafr Nabuda, in the Idlib province countryside, Syria. n two months of intensive airstrikes and bombardments on the rebel-controlled province of Idlib, Syrian government forces and their Russian allies have failed to make progress against battle-hardened insurgents. (AP Photo/File)

DAMASCUS, Syria -- Syria's Transport Ministry said a freight train carrying phosphate derailed and caught fire Sunday after getting hit by explosives planted on the tracks by militants in the country's center.

The government-owned train was transporting phosphate from mines in Khunayfis in Homs province, and the ministry said technical teams were working to repair the railway and restore traffic.

Last week, militants also targeted a gas pipeline in Homs province.

A Russian company controlled by a childhood friend of President Vladimir Putin has secured a 50-year concession from the Syrian government for most of the output of the major phosphate field in Homs after the mines were liberated from the Islamic State extremist group in 2017.

Russia is a main backer of President Bashar Assad's forces in the country's civil war, now in its ninth year.

Before the war, Syria was one of the world's top exporters of phosphate. Islamic State militants held territory in central Homs and gained control of the phosphate mines in 2015.

Despite the territorial defeat, Islamic State militants remain holed up in parts of central Syria, where they have increased their attacks against government troops. While the government now controls more than 60 percent of Syria, there is still a rebel stronghold in the northwest, where the government is waging a limited but stalled offensive. Smaller armed groups in northern, central and eastern Syria have vowed to target government and Kurdish-controlled facilities.

In northwestern Syria, where the nearly four-month offensive continues, first responders and activists said government bombing of the last major rebel area killed at least 11 civilians on Sunday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said six people were killed, including a child, in the government bombing of the village of Urum al-Joz in southern Idlib province. Rescue workers, known as Syria's Civil Defense or White Helmets, said three children and a woman were killed in Kfaruma, south of Urum al-Joz. A White Helmet volunteer was killed in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, the group said.

A Section on 07/22/2019

Print Headline: Bombing derails train in Syria

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