BEIRUT -- Two separate car bomb blasts killed a Druze leader and more than two dozen other people in southern Syria, igniting brief protests in the area, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. An explosion late Friday on the outskirts of the town of Sweida killed Sheikh Wahid al-Balous, a leader of the minority Druze community in Syria who opposed both the Syrian government and Islamist insurgents fighting against it, the observatory said. Another car bomb went off around the same time in Sweida, with the two explosions killing 26 people in total, the observatory said.

Syrian state television confirmed the two blasts and the toll, blaming the explosions on insurgents. It did not mention the Druze leader.


There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks. Insurgents including the Nusra Front and Islamic State group have been trying to advance toward Sweida province, a Druze stronghold.

After the attack, dozens of people protested outside government buildings in the Sweida area, setting cars alight and destroying a statue in the town of former President Hafez Assad, father of President Bashar Assad, the observatory said. Calm had returned to the area Saturday morning, according to the observatory, which tracks the Syrian Civil War using contacts on the ground.

(Reporting by John Davison; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Susan Fenton)