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Government clears food supply delivery

| Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014, 6:12 p.m.

The Syrian government allowed supplies to enter two contested front-line areas near the capital, a relief official said Thursday. Activists said the death toll from two weeks of infighting in the north between rebel forces and an al-Qaida-linked group climbed to more than 1,000 people.

The head of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, Khaled Iriqsousi, said that enough supplies to feed 10,000 people for a month entered the Damascus suburbs of al-Ghezlaniya and Jdaidet al-Shibani on Thursday. The areas are east and west of the capital of a region known as Ghouta.

The government's decision to permit the supplies to enter appeared to be a goodwill gesture on its part as well as an attempt to present itself as a responsible partner ahead of a peace conference scheduled to open next week in Switzerland. It was not clear whether the move was part of arrangement agreed to by Damascus and the main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, to allow humanitarian aid into some blocked-off areas.

That agreement was announced Tuesday in Paris by Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who together are working to ease the bloody strife that has engulfed Syria since an uprising there began nearly three years ago.

In Washington, Kerry on Thursday reiterated his call for the main Western-backed opposition group to attend the United Nations-brokered peace talks. The Syrian National Coalition is scheduled to meet Friday in Turkey to decide whether to take part in the so-called Geneva conference.

Also Thursday, an activist group said that two weeks of fighting between the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and other rebel forces in Syria has killed more than 1,000 people.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists around Syria, said that the fighting in northern and eastern parts of the country killed 1,069 since the clashes began Jan. 3.

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