At least 80 people were killed in central Syria on Thursday by drones carrying explosive ammunition targeting the graduation ceremony for cadets of a military academy, according to Syrian state media.
The attack occurred minutes after the ceremony, held in Homs Province, was ending and as people were gathering for photos, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group. The group said the victims included new graduates and 14 civilians, and estimated the death toll at 100. It said more than 125 were injured.
The government announced a three-day mourning period.
Video taken from the chaotic immediate aftermath of the attack showed bodies and wounded people scattered on the ground, with one man holding his leg in an attempt to stop it from bleeding.
No group has taken responsibility for the attack.
Syria’s Foreign Ministry blamed it on “U.S. occupation-backed terrorist groups,” in an apparent reference to the U.S.-backed Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces.
The United States has hundreds of soldiers in Syria, mostly in the northeast, part of its mission to fight the remnants of the Islamic State alongside its ally, Kurdish-led forces. The Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad has long demanded the United States withdraw from all parts of Syria.
The Syrian army’s general command said it “considers this cowardly terrorist act an unprecedented criminal act and affirms that it will respond with full force and decisiveness to these terrorist organizations wherever they are found,” according to Syrian state media.
Syrian government forces carried out artillery and missile attacks after the drone strike on Thursday, targeting several towns in the country’s northwestern Idlib Province and killing at least eight people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. That part of the country is under the control of armed groups not backed by the United States.
In recent months, the country’s yearslong conflict, stagnant across multiple front lines, has picked up, with battles raging in the northwest and northeast.
In the south, anti-government protests calling for the ouster of Mr. al-Assad have continued for weeks, in scenes reminiscent of Syria’s Arab Spring uprising that began more than 12 years ago and morphed into a complicated and devastating war. The protests, calling for a political settlement to end the war, grew out of anger over increasing economic hardship amid an end to some government subsidies.