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More Syrian military attacks near Damascus (+video)

Syrian forces moved against a town near the capital Thursday, using tanks and artillery to flush out opposition fighters.

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More than 60 were killed across Syria on Thursday, according to the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The toll included 48 civilians. The British-based group said 129 civilians were among 200 people killed in Syria on Wednesday.

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Outgoing U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan has blamed splits in the U.N. Security Council, where Russia and China have repeatedly blocked Western efforts to ramp up pressure on Assad, for the failure of his peace mission.

Babacar Gaye, the head of U.N. monitors sent to observe an abortive ceasefire declared by Annan on April 12, was expected to leave Damascus on Thursday. The mission's mandate has expired and was not renewed due to spiralling violence.

Annan's successor, veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, was flying to New York for a week of consultations at the United Nations, his spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said.

For all Brahimi's skills, it is not clear how he can succeed where Annan failed, given the deadlock among big powers and the intractable conflict in Syria, where Assad's minority Alawite-based ruling system is pitted against mostly Sunni opponents.

The conflict in Syria, at the heart of a volatile Middle East, is already spilling over into its neighbours.

Sporadic clashes between Sunnis and Alawites erupted for a fourth day in Lebanon's northern city of Tripoli, breaching a truce agreed less than 24 hours earlier, after Sunni gunmen shot dead an Alawite man. Nine people were wounded in the fighting.

At least 13 people have been killed and more than 100 wounded in Sunni-Alawite fighting in Lebanon this week that has been fuelled by sectarian tensions in Syria.

Ankara has grown alarmed at apparent links between Kurdish militants fighting in southeastern Turkey and the conflict in Syria. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has accused Assad of backing Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters and says Turkey's military might act to counter any threat from the PKK in Syria.

Turkish and U.S. diplomats, intelligence and military officials held talks in Ankara on Thursday expected to include a possible buffer zone in Syria and steps to stop PKK militants in the border region from exploiting the chaos.

IN PICTURES: Conflict in Syria

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