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BEIRUT -- A car bomb killed two people Saturday in the Syrian coastal city of Latakia, a stronghold of President Bashar Assad's government, activists said.

The pro-government Latakia News Network's Facebook page said the car bomb was detonated at a checkpoint. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported the attack.

The government has sought to present the country as slowly returning to normalcy after six years of war. It held a trade fair in the capital, Damascus, earlier this month for the first time since 2011.

But fighting is still underway in several parts of the country, both against rebels and against the Islamic State militant group.

The Syrian army and its ally, the Lebanese Hezbollah group, are still fighting militants in the western Qalamoun mountain range near the Syria-Lebanon border. Hezbollah has been fighting alongside Assad's forces in Syria since 2013.

Lebanon's U.S.-backed army has begun its own offensive along the border, and said that as of late afternoon Saturday, it had captured about 12 square miles of territory and killed 20 Islamic State militants. It said 10 Lebanese soldiers were wounded. The Islamic State controls an area of about 115 square miles between Syria and Lebanon, about half of which is in Lebanon.

Lebanese operations commenced before dawn, with the military striking Islamic State positions in the eastern border areas with Syria, Brig. Gen. Ali Qanso said at the Defense Ministry, warning of a difficult battle ahead.

The barren hills in eastern Lebanon will leave infantry exposed to Islamic State snipers, and the militants are expected to mine the area on a vast scale.

According to Central Military Media, a media outlet run jointly by Hezbollah and the Syrian army, a group of Islamic State militants, including a self-styled "emir" or local commander, surrendered to the advancing Hezbollah and Syrian forces by midday in the Qalamoun region in Syria.

Qanso insisted the Lebanese army was not coordinating its moves on the border with Assad's forces or the Hezbollah fighters. That insistence is important to the U.S., which is a key patron of the Lebanese army but considers Hezbollah a terror organization.

However, Hezbollah ministers hold key posts in the Lebanese government, and the country is now accustomed to seeing the militant group run operations in parallel with the army.

Information for this article was contributed by staff members of The Associated Press.

A Section on 08/20/2017

Print Headline: Car bomb at checkpoint in Syria kills two people

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