Damascus bombs kill 10 as France urges action on jihadists

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Rebel attacks in and around Damascus killed at least 10 people on Sunday, as French President Francois Hollande urged the mainstream opposition to “retake” areas that have fallen into jihadist hands.

Syrian government sources said a total of 14 people died in the three bombings that hit two police stations and a central Damascus district mainly inhabited by members of President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite minority community.

The blasts came as the army pressed an offensive aimed at ousting rebels from footholds on the outskirts that they have used as launchpads for attacks.

A three-year-old child was among three people killed by the car bomb in the mainly Alawite neighborhood of Mazzeh 86, the official SANA news agency reported.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least two people were killed.

Earlier, bombs hit a police station in Rokn Eddin in north Damascus and a security branch in Bab Musalla in the southwest, killing at least eight people, according to the Observatory.

The interior ministry said 11 people died, six of them “terrorists,” in the two attacks.

“Al-Nusra Front terrorists tried to enter the police station in Rokn Eddin and the criminal security branch in Damascus,” it said.

“Three suicide attackers clashed with police in Rokn Eddin’s police station as they prepared to detonate their explosives.

“Three other suicide bombers” tried to attack the criminal security branch in Bab Musalla, it added.

“Branch personnel fought them off and killed them, defusing their explosives,” said the ministry, adding that five people besides the attackers were killed.

The ministry said investigations showed the attackers were members of Al-Nusra Front, a rebel group that has proclaimed allegiance to Al-Qaeda.

Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi condemned what he called “terrorist explosions targeting innocent citizens in Damascus” and said they showed the “desperation of the terrorists.”

In northern Syria, 12 troops were killed in a rebel car bomb attack on the edges of Aleppo city, the Observatory said.

France’s Hollande, on a visit to Qatar, urged the mainstream rebel Free Syrian Army to push groups like Al-Nusra out of the zones they control.

“The opposition must retake control of these areas and push these groups out,” he told reporters. If extremist groups “benefit from the chaos in future, Bashar al-Assad will seize this as an excuse to continue his massacres.”

Hollande said that France was ready to help the Syrian opposition, but under certain conditions.

“We cannot provide these arms to groups that would use them against the interests of a democratic Syria or against us,” he said.

His comments came after world powers supporting the rebels agreed on Saturday to provide them with urgent military aid.

Qatar, which hosted the gathering of foreign ministers of the “Friends of Syria,” said the meeting had taken “secret decisions about practical measures to change the situation on the ground.”

A final communique said “each country in its own way” would provide “urgently all the necessary materiel and equipment” so that the rebels could “counter brutal attacks by the regime and its allies and protect the Syrian people.”

The rebels have reported receiving new equipment from “friendly” countries - a possible allusion to Gulf Arab nations - but the U.S., France and Britain have been quiet on what they have provided.

Participants at Doha said that the reticence was partly a nod to concerns by Italy and especially Germany, which has repeatedly cautioned that weapons could aggravate the conflict.

Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani, meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, said that all but two countries agreed on plans to support the rebels.

Kerry said the United States remained committed to a peace plan that includes a conference in Geneva and a transitional government picked both by Assad and the opposition.

But he said the rebels need more support “for the purpose of being able to get to Geneva and to be able to address the imbalance on the ground.”

Stoking fears of a spillover of the increasingly sectarian conflict to neighboring Lebanon, three soldiers were killed in clashes with Sunni radicals on the outskirts of the southern port city of Sidon, the army said.

Sunni cleric Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir, a fierce opponent of Hezbollah, has armed supporters who have also clashed with the powerful Shiite militant group in recent weeks.

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