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Syrian regime shoring up hold on capital, coast

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The killings appeared reminiscent of violence in the Damascus suburb of Daraya in August. At the time, activists said days of shelling and a killing spree by government troops left 300-600 dead.

Mohammed Saeed, an activist based near Damascus, said the rebels withdrew as soon as the government offensive began last week. After that, he said via Skype, troops and pro-government gunmen stormed the area and over several days killed about 250 people.

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"The situation is very tense," Saeed said, noting that the area has no electricity, water, or mobile phone service. "There is widespread destruction in Jdaidet al-Fadel, including its only bakery."

Death tolls in the civil war often conflict, especially in areas that are difficult to access because of the fighting. The government also bars many foreign journalists from Syria.

The main opposition group, the Cairo-based Syrian National Coalition, described the killings as "the latest heinous crime committed by the Assad regime." It said in a statement that "the deafening silence of the international community over these crimes against humanity is shameful."

The opposition has clamored for more support from its international allies, particularly in the form of heavier weapons that could level the playing field against Assad’s superior firepower. The U.S. and its allies have so far balked at the idea, fearing that such arms could fall into the hands of extremists fighting in the rebel ranks and be used later against Western or Israeli targets.

But the opposition has received a recent boost in support.

On Monday, the European Union lifted its oil embargo on Syria to province more economic support to the rebels. The decision will allow for crude exports from rebel-held territory, the import of oil and gas production technology, and investments in the Syrian oil industry, the EU said in a statement.

The move marks the first relaxing of EU sanctions on Syria in two years as governments try to help ease shortages of vital supplies in areas held by the opposition.

The decision follows a pledge from the U.S. over the weekend to give an additional $123 million in non-lethal aid to the Syrian opposition. That could include for the first time armored vehicles, body armor, night-vision goggles and other defensive military supplies, officials said.

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In northern Syria, gunmen kidnapped two Syrian bishops Monday who were traveling from the Turkish border to the city of Aleppo, a church official said.

It was not immediately clear who abducted Bishop Boulos Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church and John Ibrahim of the Assyrian Orthodox Church, said Greek Orthodox Bishop Tony Yazigi. Boulos Yazigi is the brother of John Yazigi, the Eastern Orthodox patriarch of Antioch.

They are the highest level clerics to be abducted in the civil war.


Associated Press writers Bassem Mroue in Beirut and Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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