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MIDEAST > Syria rebels down chopper as regime raids towns: NGO

BEIRUT - Agence France-Presse

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Syrian rebels shot down a regime helicopter near a military airbase in the northern province of Aleppo on Monday, as warplanes pounded towns across the country, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
 
"A helicopter was seen falling from the sky as it burst into flames after it was hit near Minnigh military airport," which rebels have been trying to storm for months, the monitoring group said.
 
In the west of the province, rebels pressed on with attacks on a police academy, taking control of a building where troops were entrenched as warplanes tried to repel back, the Observatory said.
 
At least 46 combatants -- 16 rebels including a battalion commander and 30 troops -- were killed over the past 24 hours in the battle for the academy outside the town of Khan Assal, it said.
 
Elsewhere, the Britain-based Observatory said, warplanes bombarded the southwestern and eastern outskirts of Damascus in an protracted bid to dislodge rebels from their rear bases, killing two people, including a child.
 
Inside the capital, loyalist troops shelled the eastern opposition stronghold of Jobar as fierce clashes broke out in the southern district of Qadam.
 
In the northwestern province of Idlib, five civilians were killed and nine wounded as warplanes targeted a string of villages in the Jabal Zawiya area, it said.
 
Fighter jets also raided the towns of Dael and Mleiha in the southern province of Daraa, cradle of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad that broke out in March 2011 and has left 70,000 dead, according to the United Nations.
 
In the mainly Kurdish province of Hasake, the jihadist Al-Nusra Front and other rebels seized Tal Hamis after several days of heavy fighting and regime shelling that forced most of the town's residents to flee, the Observatory said.
 
On Sunday, at least 141 people, including 61 civilians, were killed in violence across Syria, according to the Observatory, which relies on a vast network of activists on the ground and medics.

Kerry urges Syrian opposition to attend Rome talks

LONDON - Agence France-Presse

US Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday urged the Syrian opposition to reconsider its threat to boycott talks with foreign powers due in Rome this week.

"I would urge the Syrian opposition to join us as a matter of practicality and of informing us," Kerry said in a news conference in London after talks with British Foreign Secretary William Hague.

He promised the rebels that the Friends of Syria group was not meeting on Thursday merely to talk but "we are coming to Rome to make a decision on next steps".

He stressed though that the United States continued to pursue a political resolution to the conflict.
 
Kerry said the killings in the Syrian city of Aleppo last week were "further evidence" that President Bashar al-Assad must stand down.

"The Syrian people deserve better than the horrific violence that now invades and threatens their everyday lives," Kerry said.
 
The Syrian National Council has said it will pull out of the 11-nation Friends of Syria talks in protest at the international community's "shameful" inability to halt the bloodshed.


February/25/2013

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