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Continued: Syrian state TV claims leader of al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front killed in coastal province.

  • Article by: ZEINA KARAM , Associated Press
  • Last update: October 25, 2013 - 6:25 PM

An unidentified Syrian army officer in the area told Al-Ikhbariya that foreign fighters were among the dead and that the ambush followed an intelligence tip.

The Observatory said at least 24 fighters, some of them foreign, were killed in the ambush, but it gave no further details and the differing death tolls could not be immediately reconciled.

The offensive coincided with an international push for a peace conference to be held in Geneva. Both sides want to bolster their position on the ground ahead of the talks, expected next month. No final date has been set, however, and it is unclear whether the sides will reach an agreement on the agenda.

The Supreme Military Council, which brings together a collection of loosely-knit rebel brigades under the emblem of the Free Syrian Army, said Friday it refused to sit down with Syrian officials involved in killing Syrians. Comments carried by the Syrian National Coalition, the group's political wing, also dismissed the proposed talks for lacking a way to reach concrete results.

In other violence, a car bomb blew up near a mosque in in the village of Wadi Barada outside of Damascus shortly before Friday prayers ended. The Observatory said 40 people were killed in the blast and dozens wounded. SANA said the car blew up as it was being rigging with explosives. The agency said a number of people were killed.

The ambush near Damascus came hours after Assad's forces captured the town of Hatitat al-Turkomen south of the city, securing a key highway that links the capital with the Damascus International Airport.

North of Damascus, rebels and government forces clashed for a fifth consecutive day in the Christian town of Sadad. Al-Qaida-linked groups captured a checkpoint earlier this week that gave them control of the western part of the town.

Archbishop Silwanos Al-Nemeh told The Associated Press in a telephone interview as many as 3,000 civilians were trapped, and he appealed for international organizations to help civilians flee the area.

Also Friday, Norway rejected a U.S. request for it to receive the bulk of Syria's chemical weapons for destruction, saying it doesn't have the capabilities to complete the task by the deadlines set by an international chemical watchdog.

The United Nations has set a mid-2014 deadline for the destruction of Syria's arsenal — a deadline Brende said was too tight for Norway.

On Friday, the OPCW said its inspectors visited a site the day before and verified that all of its previous chemical weapons-related equipment has been dismantled. That brings to 19 the total number of sites visited by OPCW inspectors, of 23 that have been disclosed by Syria.

The Syrian conflict has left more than 100,000 people dead and driven nearly 7 million more from their homes.

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