BEIRUT/Ankara

At least 30 Syrian children were killed Wednesday in a double bombing by a lone assailant at a school in the government-controlled city of Homs, a monitor said.

They were among 39 people who died in the attack in the Akrameh neighbourhood, according to a new toll from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. “At least 30 children were among 39 people killed in the double bombing at the Akrameh al-Makhzumi school in Homs today,” said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

One suicide attacker carried out both of the bombings. “He planted a bomb at one location at the school, and then blew himself up at another spot nearby,” Abdel Rahman told AFP.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. But Al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, Al-Nusra Front, said it was behind a similar twin bombing in the central city that killed at least 12 people in May. Speaking to AFP on Wednesday, Homs governor Talal al-Barazi had also reported the deadly attacks, giving a toll of 31 killed and 74 wounded. The children were between six and nine years old, he added.

The toll is among the highest for children in suicide attacks across Syria since the conflict erupted in the country three years ago. Meanwhile, US-led forces carried out at least five air strikes on Wednesday against Islamic State group fighters attacking the Syrian Kurdish town of Ain al-Arab, a monitoring group said.

The strikes hit IS positions south and southeast of the town, known as Kobane by the Kurds, which the militants have been battling to take for more than two weeks, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

At least eight militants were killed in a strike on an IS tank east of the town, said the Britain-based Observatory, which relies on a wide network of sources inside Syria for its reports. “Kurdish fighters on the front lines saw the bodies literally being thrown into the air” by the force of the blast, said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman. Despite the air strikes, the militants continued to shell the town on the Turkish border from positions as little as three kilometres (two miles) away. Fierce fighting overnight killed nine Kurdish fighters and one IS militant, the Observatory said.

The group also reported that at least 10 people had been executed by the group on Tuesday, including a civilian and three Kurdish female fighters, who were beheaded.

A Kurdish male fighter was beheaded along with the women, and another five fighters were also executed in a separate incident in the area, the Observatory said. Abdel Rahman said the Kurdish fighters were vastly outnumbered and outgunned in the fight for Ain al-Arab.

“Though they are fewer in number and are militarily worse equipped, the Kurdish fighters refuse to withdraw and are fiercely defending their town,” he said. “For them, it is a matter of life or death.”

Meanwhile, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that Turkey would fight against Islamic State and other “terrorist” groups in the region but will stick to its aim of seeing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad removed from power, .

“We will fight effectively against both (Islamic State) and all other terrorist organisations within the region; this will always be our priority,” Erdogan said in a speech at the opening of parliament.

 Australian military jets are to join in the US-led air war against the Islamic State group in Iraq, conducting refuelling and support missions, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Wednesday. Australia deployed some 600 troops and several aircraft to the United Arab Emirates in mid-September as it geared up to join the US-led international coalition.

“We have not yet made a final decision to commit our forces to combat but Australian aircraft from today will start flying over Iraq in support of allied operations,” Abbott told parliament.