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President Obama on Wednesday reiterated that the U.S. isn’t considering sending weapons to the opposition because of concerns the arms might end up in the hands of extremists.

Although Assad remains isolated internationally, he still has the backing of key allies Russia, China and Iran.

On Thursday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich warned that providing assistance to Syrian opposition fighters would breach international law.

He specifically cited a 1970 United Nations document saying that no country should help or finance military action aimed at the violent overthrow of a foreign government. He also said the opposition’s refusal to hold talks with Assad would “strengthen positions of extremists.”

Lukashevich said Russia will continue its contacts with both the government and the opposition to encourage them to sit down for talks. “There is no alternative to an inclusive dialogue without any foreign interference,” he said.

Despite myriad attempts over the past year to reach a diplomatic solution to the crisis, violence has continued unabated on the ground.

Syrian activists said regime warplanes carried out airstrikes Thursday on an eastern town bordering Iraq after rebels seized a security headquarters following days of heavy fighting.

Rebels had been making advances in the town of al-Boukamal in the oil-rich province of Deir el-Zour for weeks. On Thursday, they seized control of the military security building and a military checkpoint at the edge of the town.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a local activist who gave only his first name, Omar, said Syrian regime forces retaliated with air raids on al-Boukamal. It was not immediately clear whether there were any casualties.

The Observatory also said it received a report from Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and the epicenter of some of the worst fighting, that dozens of soldiers’ bodies were being held at the international airport. The men apparently had been killed in fighting, but authorities were delaying returning the soldiers’ bodies to their families.

It was impossible to independently confirm the report.


Associated Press writers Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Christopher Torchia in Istanbul, David Stringer in London, and Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed to this report.