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U.N. Security Council members view graphic photos of Syria dead

By Louis Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Members of the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday viewed graphic pictures taken in Syria by a former military police photographer that showed what appeared to be evidence of brutal torture, including eye gougings, strangulation and long-term starvation.

Syria to announce presidential vote date next week

The speaker of Syria's parliament will next week announce the date of the country's presidential election, expected to be held around June despite the conflict, Al-Watan newspaper reported. The daily, which is close to the government, said Mohamed Jihad Lahham would make the announcement next week, but gave no details on the date for the vote. President Bashar al-Assad, who succeeded his father Hafez in the post in 2000, will end his seven-year term on July 17.

Neither side holds upper hand in Syria

The United States on Monday took issue with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's analysis that the bitter conflict was turning in his favor, saying it had become a "war of attrition." "Our analysis remains what it has been, that this is a war of attrition and neither side has been able to deliver or hold onto significant gains," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. She told reporters that she was not "going to give ground game updates. Certainly our efforts to engage with the opposition continue."

Syria troops retake Christian town of Maalula

Syrian troops retook the ancient Christian town of Maalula from rebels Monday, a day after President Bashar al-Assad said the three-year old civil war was turning in his favour. During the operation, Al-Manar television, the broadcaster of Assad's close Lebanese ally Hezbollah, said three of its staffers were killed. "The army has taken full control of Maalula and restored security and stability. Terrorism has been defeated in Qalamun," a security official said.

Syria expert Patrick Seale dead at 83

British journalist Patrick Seale, a veteran Middle East historian and expert on Syria, has died at the age of 83, his former newspaper the Observer reported. The broadcaster and writer was best known for a series of books on Syria that were widely respected, although critics said he was too supportive of the Assad regime. Seale died of brain cancer in London, having been diagnosed last June, said the Observer, the British Sunday paper for which he was once the Beirut correspondent.

Syria troops retake Christian town of Maalula

Syrian troops retook the ancient Christian town of Maalula from rebels Monday, a day after President Bashar al-Assad said the three-year old civil war was turning in his favour. "The army has taken full control of Maalula and restored security and stability. Terrorism has been defeated in Qalamun," a security official told AFP, referring to the region in which Maalula is located. An AFP journalist in Maalula said the Al-Safir hotel, which rebels had been using as a base, was almost completely destroyed, with a facade that gave on to a cliff having collapsed.

Syria troops retake Christian town of Maalula

Syrian regime troops retook the ancient Christian town of Maalula on Monday, a day after President Bashar al-Assad said the conflict was turning in his government's favour. "The army has taken full control of Maalula and restored security and stability. Terrorism has been defeated in Qalamun," a security official told AFP, referring to the region in which Maalula is located. "This operation comes in the context of the capture of Qalamun. A large number of terrorists were killed and others who fled are being pursued," added the official, who asked not to be named.

Syrian army seizes ancient Christian town near Lebanese border

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian soldiers backed by Hezbollah fighters recaptured on Monday the town of Maaloula, north of Damascus, military sources and state television said, closing off more of the rebel supply route through the Qalamoun mountains near Lebanon. Islamist fighters, some from the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, took over a quarter of the ancient Christian town in December and held several nuns captive. In March, the nuns were released in an exchange deal with Qatari and Lebanese mediation.

Syrian opposition leader to visit China

BEIJING (Reuters) - Syrian opposition leader Ahmad Jarba will lead a delegation to China this week and meet the country's foreign minister, the government said on Monday, in Beijing's latest effort at mediation in the crisis. China and its ally Russia have vetoed Western efforts to impose U.N. penalties on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But China has been keen to show it is not taking sides and has urged the Syrian government to talk to the opposition and take steps to meet demands for political change.

Syria's Assad says war turning in his favor

By Mariam Karouny BEIRUT (Reuters) - President Bashar al-Assad said on Sunday that Syria's three-year conflict was at a "turning point" due to his forces' military gains against rebels, state media said. Assad's allies have portrayed him as confident and in control and they expect him to run for and win a presidential election in July - a turnaround from last year when he looked on the verge of defeat as rebels advanced towards Damascus, struck in the heart of the capital and took control of key areas.
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