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Suicide car bomber kills 50 soldiers, Syrian opposition says

Another day of relentless violence in Syria coincided with more unity talks in Qatar among opposition factions.

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Unity on Syria has also eluded major international powers since the conflict began in March 2011, with Russia and China opposing Western calls for his removal and critical of so far ill-coordinated outside efforts to arm his opponents.

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Rebels have few weapons to counter warplanes and artillery, but Western nations have fought shy of supplying anti-tank or anti-aircraft missiles without a credible opposition leadership.

That has given the Syrian military a free hand, with densely populated Damascus suburbs hit by air and ground bombardments that have killed hundreds of people in the last three weeks.

Witnesses said artillery deployed on Qasioun, a mountain that overlooks Damascus, was pounding southern neighborhoods and warplanes were firing rockets. Tanks were also in action.

"War of attrition"

Activist Rami al-Sayyed, speaking from southern Damascus, said rebels had made hit-and-run attacks on pro-Assad militiamen in the city overnight before retreating to the nearby farmland of al-Ghouta, or the old gardens of Damascus.

"The rebels are avoiding their past errors of trying to hold onto territory, where they would be crushed. They are waging a war of attrition, hitting regime forces quickly and retreating to the rear," he said.

In one attack, rebels fought pro-Assad militiamen in Nisreen, a southern district mainly populated by members of Assad's minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

They also hit positions belonging to the Popular Front For the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), a Syrian-sponsored faction, in the nearby Yarmouk refugee camp, where at least 20 people were reported killed by army shelling on Sunday.

At least seven PFLP-GC members were killed in the latest fighting, and ambulances were seen taking dozens of casualties from Nisreen to hospital, activists in the area said.

The Syrian conflict has aggravated divisions in the Islamic world, with Shi'ite Iran supporting Assad and U.S.-allied Sunni nations such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar backing his foes.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Egypt's al-Ahram daily that Moscow, Syria's main arms supplier, was sending weapons under Soviet-era commitments for defense against external threats, not to support Assad.

"We do not side with any faction in Syria's internal battle," Lavrov was quoted as saying.

After talks with his Egyptian counterpart in Cairo, Lavrov said Russia backed an Egyptian initiative that seeks to bring together Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran to try to resolve the Syrian crisis. Saudi Arabia has stayed away from the last two meetings of the disparate regional group.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have all said Assad must leave power. Iran advocates dialogue to resolve the crisis.

Russia and China, both permanent Security Council members, have vetoed three Western-backed UN draft resolutions condemning Assad's government for its handling of an uprising that turned from peaceful protests into a civil war.

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