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31 Syrians Killed in Hama Suicide Bombing

October 20, 2013

Suicide Bomber Kills 31 in Syria's Hama: state media

Sunday, October 20, 2013, 8:00am EDT

BEIRUT (Reuters) -

A suicide bomber driving a truck packed with 1.5 metric tons of explosives killed at least 31 people and wounded dozens in the Syrian city of Hama on Sunday, state media and a monitoring group reported.

The man blew himself up inside the vehicle on a busy road on the outskirts of the city in central Syria, the SANA news agency said. It blamed "terrorists", the term it uses to describe rebel forces trying to topple President Bashar al-Assad.

The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack targeted an army checkpoint but most of the dead were civilians.

Syria's 2-1/2-year-old conflict began as peaceful protests but has turned into civil war. More than 100,000 people have died, according to United Nations figures, in fighting that is now spread across most of the country.

According to the Observatory, the suicide bomber was from the Nusra Front, an al Qaeda affiliate that has frequently used suicide bombers to attack military and political targets.

Pictures on Syria TV showed firemen trying to put out huge fires as black smoke rose from charred trucks and cars.

Rebels also used a car bomb a day earlier to attack a checkpoint on the outskirts of Damascus. Heavy clashes erupted after the blast and continued on Sunday.

Rebels said they seized the first checkpoint and were now fighting to capture a second one down the road. The checkpoints, to the southeast of the capital, sit between the rebel-held suburb of Mleiha and the government-held suburb of Jaramana.

"These checkpoints are the fortress between us and the next air force defense site," said Nidal, a rebel speaking by Skype. "If we can destroy it we can liberate the base."

Syrian military jets have pounded nearby rebel-held areas. Rebels hold several suburbs ringing the capital but have yet to make deep inroads into the capital, due to a sustained army blockade.

Doctors in one suburb to the west of Damascus, Mouadamiya, have reported an increasing number of deaths due to malnutrition.

A fighter in the eastern suburbs said government forces had blocked the main entry point for food and supplies to that region two days ago.

"That is where we used to get our food and flour. If it stays closed, we will be destroyed," he said, asking not to be named.

International powers are trying to bring the two sides to peace talks in Geneva next month. But the opposition has been reluctant to attend and Assad's government says it will not negotiate the president's removal.

(Reporting by Erika Solomon; Editing by Janet Lawrence)


Syria peace conference II set for Nov. 23-24: AL

CAIRO, Oct. 20, 2013 (Xinhua) --

The second Syria peace conference will be held in Geneva, Switzerland on Nov. 23-24, said Arab League (AL) chief Nabil al-Arabi at a press conference here on Sunday.

He said he was informed of the date by visiting UN-AL joint special envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi at the Pan-Arab body's headquarters in Cairo.

During their meeting, the two evaluated the regional and international efforts toward a political solution to the Syrian crisis, and discussed the current preparation for the conference and the contacts made with Syria's conflicting sides, especially with the national opposition coalition.

Cairo is the first leg of Brahimi's regional tour in preparation for the long-awaited peace conference, which has been delayed multiple times.

"The arrangements are being made to prepare for this conference, " Arabi told reporters after his meeting with Brahimi.

However, the AL chief admitted that "a lot of challenges should be tackled to convene the conference."

He added that "Geneva II" is needed to implement the document of the first conference, which calls for a transitional period and an interim government composed of members from both the administration and the opposition.

Meanwhile, Brahimi told the reporters at the same press conference that the date has not been officially set yet.

On Saturday, Brahimi said there should be no preconditions for any side to attend the peace talks. But, during Sunday's press conference, he said, "The conference will not be convened without convincing the opposition" to participate.

He expressed hopes that the second peace conference will end the Syrian crisis and lead to a transitional stage to build a new Syria.

He added that the situation in Syria is worsening as at least 100,000 have been killed, and one third of the Syrian people are suffering from diseases, displacement and detention.

"All parties should realize that the situation in Syria is dangerous for the global peace," Brahimi added.


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