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Iran Joins First Talks on Syria's Fate

Major powers, including arch-rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia who back opposing sides in Syria, meet for the first time Friday in search of a political solution to the devastating war.

Top diplomats from more than a dozen nations have gathered in Vienna to narrow differences over the fate of President Bashar Assad, who has defied Western demands to step down.

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Syria Regime Raids Kill 8 Civilians outside Damascus

Syrian government air strikes on a market and a hospital killed at least eight civilians outside Damascus Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor and activists said.

"Warplanes carried out a series of strikes on areas in the city of Douma in Eastern Ghouta, killing at least eight civilians, including a child," said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.

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Four-Way Syria Talks Aim to Bridge Differences as Iran Set to Enter

Key nations backing Syria's warring sides will seek to thrash out differences at talks Thursday as Iran readies to make its debut at international negotiations on ending the four-year conflict.

Russia, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the four major powers meeting in Vienna, support opposite sides in a war the U.S.'s top diplomat has described as "hell".

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Syrian Observatory: Apparent Russian Raids in Syria's South for First Time

Russia appears to have carried out strikes in southern Syria's Daraa province for the first time in an apparent expansion of its aerial campaign, a monitor said on Thursday.

"Warplanes that are believed to be Russian carried out strikes on the Hara, Tal Antar, Kafr Nasaj and Aqraba areas of northern Daraa" last night, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.

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'Increased Strikes' Kill 35 in Syria Hospitals

A "significant increase" of air strikes on Syrian hospitals recently has killed at least 35 patients and medical staff and wounded 72, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said Thursday.

The group said the escalating attacks began in late September, though it did not identify who was behind them, and that 12 hospitals had been hit in Idlib, Aleppo and Hama provinces, including six supported by MSF.

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Fabius Says France, Allies Want 'Precise Timetable' for Assad Departure

France and its allies have agreed on the need for a "precise timetable" for the departure of Syrian President Bashar Assad as they met ahead of international talks, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Wednesday.

"We worked on the details of a political transition guaranteeing the departure of Bashar Assad within a precise timetable," Fabius said in a statement.

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Family Buries First Russian Soldier Dead in Syria, Doubts Suicide

The first Russian serviceman confirmed dead in Syria was laid to rest on Wednesday as his family and friends disputed the official explanation that his death was caused by suicide.

Authorities said 19-year-old soldier Vadim Kostenko hanged himself at Russia's airbase in the Syrian province of Latakia due to relationship trouble but his loved ones said they would never believe he had taken his own life.

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Assad Accuses West of Backing 'Terrorist' Groups in Syria

Syrian President Bashar Assad renewed his accusation that Western states including France are supporting "terrorist" groups in his country's conflict, at a meeting on Wednesday with a French parliamentary delegation.

"Several countries in the region and the West, including France, are continuing up until now to support terrorism by giving political cover to terrorist groups in Syria and the region," he told three visiting rightwing legislators, quoted by state news agency SANA.

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Azerbaijan Jails Two for Fighting with IS Militants

Azerbaijan on Tuesday sentenced two men to 14 years in jail for fighting alongside Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, authorities in the ex-Soviet republic said.

The energy-rich Caucasus nation's security ministry "arrested the two Azerbaijani nationals in April over fighting in Syria and Iraq," a Baku court spokesman told AFP.

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U.N. Resumes Food Aid for Syrian Refugees in Jordan

The U.N. food agency said Tuesday it had resumed assistance to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Jordan, a month after suspending aid over a lack of funds.

"We stopped assistance in September because we did not have the money," said Jonathan Campbell, the World Food Program's emergency coordinator for Syrian refugees in Jordan.

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