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Updated Monday, January 7, 2013 at 05:59 AM

Report: Syrian troops repulse rebels in Aleppo

The Associated Press

Syria's state media said Monday that government troops repulsed a rebel attack on a police school in the northern city of Aleppo, one day after President Bashar Assad called on Syrians to fight rebels he characterized as religious extremists.

SANA news agency said members of the "terrorist group" were killed and wounded in the late Sunday battle but did not specify the number, The government and the pro-regime media refer to rebels as terrorists.

Aleppo, Syria's largest city and a former commercial hub, has been a major front in the civil war since July, with battles often raging for control of military and security facilities such as the police school. Rebels have recently made significant advances there, in the east, and in the capital Damascus, bringing the civil war closer to the seat of Assad's power.

In his speech Sunday, Assad laid out terms for a peace plan but dismissed any chance of dialogue with "murderous criminals" who he said were responsible for nearly two years of violence. Nearly 60,000 people have died, according to a recent United Nations estimate.

Assad appeared confident and relaxed in a one-hour speech - his first public address in six months. He struck a defiant tone, ignoring international demands for him to step down and saying he is ready to hold a dialogue - but only with those "who have not betrayed Syria." He also vowed to continue the battle "as long as there is one terrorist left."

He offered a national reconciliation conference, elections and a new constitution but demanded regional and Western countries stop funding and arming rebels trying to overthrow his regime first.

Syria's opposition swiftly rejected the proposal. Those fighting to topple the regime, including rebels on the ground, have repeatedly said they will accept nothing less than the president's departure, dismissing any kind of settlement that leaves him in the picture.

The West, including the U.S. and Britain that have called on Assad to step down denounced the speech that came amid stepped-up international efforts for a peaceful way out of the Syrian conflict.

Previous diplomatic initiatives have failed to stem the bloodshed.

Syria conflict began as peaceful protests after the uprising against Assad authoritarian rule erupted in March 2011. It morphed into civil war after a brutal government crackdown on dissent.


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