Syria troops seize strategic Qara village

A rebel fighter from the Free Syrian Army runs in a street of Aleppo's Salah al-Din neighbourhood during fighting against Syrian government forces on November 18, 2013.

Syrian troops on Tuesday captured the village of Qara in the mountainous Qalamoun region along a key supply route between Damascus and Homs, a military source told AFP.

The reported capture came after days of air strikes on the region near the Lebanese border, which is also a key smuggling route for rebels battling to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"After three days of fighting, the Syrian army has taken full control of Qara," some 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of the capital, the Syrian military source said, adding that a "large number of terrorists" had been killed, referring to the rebels.

The fighting in Qara sent at least 1,700 people streaming across the border into Lebanon, which is already hosting more than 800,000 Syrian refugees and has suffered from rising unrest linked to the Syrian conflict next door.

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Geneva II

Russia is seeing more "realism" from the Syrian opposition, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday, as Moscow pressed on with efforts to set up elusive peace talks between the warring sides.

Speaking in an interview to Moscow's Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper, Lavrov praised some steps by the opposition, but said that no "constructive platform" has yet been found to unite all those opposing Assad's regime.

"When all of the demands... will go on the table from both sides, it will be possible to put together some compromise agreements based on mutual concessions," Lavrov was quoted as saying.

"However, we are not at that stage yet, since, although there are more and more signs of realism in the ranks of the opposition, no (opposition) delegation has yet been formed... that would be representative and would represent the entire spectrum of Syrian society."

"We welcome efforts of the (National) Coalition to start dialogue with the internal opposition, including Kurdish organizations," Lavrov said, although he also criticized the coalition's attempts to "monopolize" the process of forming such a delegation.

The Geneva II conference — tentatively scheduled for mid-December and meant to bring government and rebel representatives to the negotiating table for the first time — has been delayed for months because of seemingly irreconcilable differences over the terms of the talks.

The Coalition has agreed to attend the conference only if it leads to a transitional period that would see the departure of Assad from power, a demand rejected by Russia and the Syrian regime.

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Beirut bombing

On Tuesday a double suicide bombing targeting the Iranian embassy in Beirut and claimed by Sunni Muslim jihadists ripped through a Shiite neighborhood.

Iran is a key ally of Damascus, and the powerful Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah has sent fighters to battle alongside Assad's troops, including in Qalamoun.

The Syrian civil war has claimed an estimated 120,000 lives and generated the biggest refugee crisis in two decades, raising fears that the conflict could spill over into volatile neighboring states like Lebanon and Iraq.

The uprising against Assad began in March 2011 as peaceful pro-democracy protests but escalated into a full-blown insurgency after a brutal government crackdown.

The fighting has taken on an increasingly sectarian character, with Shiite militants from Lebanon and Iraq fighting alongside regime troops and Al-Qaeda-inspired jihadists flooding into the country to join the Sunni-led rebels.

Lebanon's factions are bitterly divided over the Syrian war, with Sunnis backing the rebels while Hezbollah and its allies support Assad.