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As its opponents clash, Syria regime drops barrel bombs

Mainstream rebels and Al-Qaeda-linked jihadists clashed Thursday in northern Syria, as government warplanes battered opposition areas near Damascus with explosives-packed barrel bombs, a monitor said. "Fierce clashes pitting ISIL against several Islamist and moderate (rebel) groups are raging in Saraqeb, Idlib," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The town of Saraqeb is home to ISIL's last remaining position in the northwestern province of Idlib, and has seen heavy fighting since Tuesday.

Russia denies 'hidden agenda' as it talks with Iran, Syria FMs

Russia denied Thursday it had a "hidden agenda" on Syria as it launched a fresh round of crisis diplomacy by hosting the Iranian and Syrian foreign ministers ahead of peace talks in Switzerland. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrived in the Russian capital late Wednesday on the same jet as Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem.

Western intelligence talking to Damascus

Western intelligence officials have visited Syria to discuss security cooperation with the regime, its deputy foreign minister told the BBC as the West worries about Islamist extremists among the Syrian opposition. Faisal Mekdad told the BBC that the visits to Damascus pointed to a "schism" between what western politicians were saying about President Bashar al-Assad's regime and what western security services were doing.

EU pledges millions more for Syria but worried over delivery

The European Union offered an extra 165 million euros of aid to victims of Syria's unrelenting civil war Tuesday while urging world powers to do more to ensure help reaches those trapped in the fighting. "We see the humanitarian situation going from bad to worse, we have seen no improvement," EU Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva told AFP before departing for a donor conference in Kuwait City, following the UN's largest appeal ever for a single emergency.

Rebels clash in north Syria, bodies pile up in hospital: monitors

BEIRUT (Reuters) - An al Qaeda affiliate in Syria battled rival rebels across the country's north on Saturday and dozens of bodies piled up in a hospital in an insurgent-held city, a monitoring group said. A week of infighting between the al Qaeda-linked group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and other groups including another al Qaeda-affiliated faction has killed hundreds of fighters opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.

Rouhani says Syria talks will fail without Iran

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Thursday a Syrian peace conference planned for later this month will fail if Tehran, Damascus's main regional ally, does not participated, media reported. The remarks came ahead of a meeting Monday at which Russia and the United States are to discuss Tehran's possible involvement in the talks set to start in Montreux, Switzerland on January 22.

Kerry says Iran could help on sideline of Syrian peace talks

By Arshad Mohammed JERUSALEM (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday Iran could play a role on the sidelines of Syrian peace talks, the first sign he might accept some participation from Tehran amid a thawing of relations between the two countries. Washington, and Syrian opposition groups, have long objected to any involvement from Iran, the main regional ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during the near three-year uprising against his rule.

Iraq arrests Shiite cleric who claimed Saudi shelling

Iraqi security forces on Thursday arrested a Shiite cleric who heads a pro-Iranian group which he claimed was responsible for firing mortar rounds into Saudi Arabia in November, police said. Security forces arrested Wathiq al-Battat, the head of Jaish al-Mukhtar, on Palestine Street in Baghdad, the police colonel said. It was not immediately clear on what charges he was arrested.

EU urges Lebanese leaders to join to restore security

The EU's top diplomat on Friday deplored a deadly car bomb explosion in central Beirut and urged Lebanon's leaders to join together to restore security in the country. "The spiral of violence in Lebanon is deeply worrying," said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, deploring the blast that notably took the life of Mohamad Chatah, former Lebanese finance minister and a key member of a coalition that opposes Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.

Syria inks oil, gas deal with Russia firm

Damascus signed an oil and gas deal with a Russian company Wednesday which will allow for the first-ever exploration off Syria's coast. The agreement was signed by Syrian Oil Minister Suleiman Abbas, Syria's General Petroleum Company and the Russian Soyuzneftegaz company, according to an AFP reporter present at the signing. The deal permits the exploration of an area of 2,190 square kilometres (850 square miles) in the Mediterranean. The contract "is the first ever for oil and gas exploration in Syria's waters," General Petroleum Company head Ali Abbas told AFP.
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