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Syrian troops, rebels fight at prison compound

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By The Associated Press
Wednesday, May 15, 2013, 9:57 p.m.

Rebel fighters battled regime troops Wednesday inside the walls of the sprawling central prison compound in Aleppo, hours after blowing open the gate with twin car bombs in an attempted jailbreak, activists said.

The orchestrated assault began at dawn; however, by nightfall, the rebels had not dislodged regime forces or freed about 4,000 prisoners, according to two pro-opposition monitoring groups.

Rebels assaulted the central prison in Aleppo — Syria's largest city — after weeks of fighting in the area, in an attempt to free regime opponents believed to be held there, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a local activist group, the Aleppo Media.

Across Syria, the Internet was restored after a blackout of more than eight hours — the second nationwide outage in a week. Syria's Communications Ministry blamed a rebel bombing which it said cut a cable north of the capital of Damascus but gave no details.

Earlier, the state news agency SANA linked the outage to a technical problem.

At the United Nations, the General Assembly voted 107-12, with 59 abstentions, to approve an Arab-backed resolution calling for a political transition in Syria and condemning President Bashar Assad's regime for “gross violations” of human rights.

Earlier this month, the United States and Russia agreed on a joint push to get Syria's political opposition and representatives of the Assad regime to negotiate a peaceful transition.

An international conference, possibly to be held in early June, would help begin such talks.

Both the opposition and the regime have said they want to learn more about the agenda, the venue and the participants before signing up.

The two sides remain far apart on the terms for such negotiations, with the opposition insisting that Assad must step down first with the regime willing to commit to an open-ended cease-fire.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron called for urgent action to pressure Assad and the rebels to put forward names for a transitional government that everyone can support for negotiations to begin.

“My concern is that we'll get into too long a process,” he told reporters after meetings at the United Nations. “Urgent action needs to be taken right now to put pressure on the participants to get together ... and that's what I'll be putting my efforts behind.”

Syria's conflict began with a popular uprising in March 2011 and escalated into a civil war that has claimed more than 70,000 lives. Despite the new diplomatic initiative, fighting has continued.

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