- Associated Press - Thursday, October 2, 2014

BEIRUT (AP) - Hundreds of supporters of President Bashar Assad held a rare protest Thursday in Syria against the governor of the central city of Homs after twin bombings there killed 25 children, activists reported.

The demonstration of grim-faced men waving signs occurred after grieving residents gathered at a roundabout in Homs near where the attack took place, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

A pro-Assad Facebook youth group in Homs also reported the protest. The group’s administrator said he was not allowed to film the demonstration, though he uploaded photographs showing hundreds of men and boys marching down a Homs main street. Another photograph showed men and women carrying the Syrian flag and signs that read: “We won’t forget; We won’t be silent.”

In Syria’s 3-½-year civil war, open criticism against the government by Assad loyalists has been extremely rare. But anger has been growing among Assad supporters since August, when extremists of the militant Islamic State group seized three military bases and killed hundreds of Syrian soldiers.

It was not immediately clear why the demonstrators specifically demanded the governor’s resignation.

Syrian state-run media said the twin bombings Wednesday near the Homs school killed at least 25 children and eight adults in a neighborhood dominated by the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam of which Assad belongs.

Others have placed the death toll much higher, including the Britain-based Observatory, which said the bombing killed 46 children, many of them from the same families, and another seven adults.

Meanwhile Thursday, the main Western-backed Syrian National Coalition said that five of its officials, including the opposition’s interim health minister, were dismissed over 15 children dying last month after receiving vaccinations.

The Coalition said in a statement that the measles vaccinations were “badly used” in the northwestern province of Idlib, without elaborating. It said medical officials in the province were responsible, adding that those who supervised the vaccination will be put on trial.

The children, some just babies, all exhibited signs of “severe allergic shock” about an hour after receiving a second round of measles vaccinations on Sept. 16, activist said then.

Syria’s civil war has caused the collapse of the country’s health system in contested areas. Nationwide vaccination efforts also have been thrown into disarray, allowing polio to re-emerge in parts of Syria last year.

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Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue contributed to this report.

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