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Last updated: March 16. 2013 5:37AM - 958 Views
Associated Press



A Syrian boy waves the Syrian revolutionary flag during a celebration to commemorate the second anniversary of the Syrian revolution, in Amman, Jordan, Friday, March, 15, 2013. Around a thousand Syrians gathered in front of the Syrian embassy, and chanted slogans against Assad, and the Baath regime that has ruled Syria for the last 40 years. (AP Photo/Mohammad Hannon)
A Syrian boy waves the Syrian revolutionary flag during a celebration to commemorate the second anniversary of the Syrian revolution, in Amman, Jordan, Friday, March, 15, 2013. Around a thousand Syrians gathered in front of the Syrian embassy, and chanted slogans against Assad, and the Baath regime that has ruled Syria for the last 40 years. (AP Photo/Mohammad Hannon)
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(AP) The Syrian regime is expanding its use of widely banned cluster bombs, an international human rights group said in a report Saturday as the deadlocked conflict entered its third year.


In new violence, rebels detonated a powerful car bomb in a city in the east of the country, setting off clashes with regime troops, state TV and activists said.


In the past six months, Syrian forces have dropped at least 156 cluster bombs in 119 locations across the country, causing mounting civilian casualties, the New York-based group Human Rights Watch said.


Two strikes in the past two weeks killed 11 civilians, including two women and five children, the report said. The group said it based its findings on field investigations and analysis of more than 450 amateur videos.


Cluster bombs open in flight, scattering smaller bomblets. They pose a threat to civilians long afterwards since many don't explode immediately. Most countries have banned their use.


The report came a day after Syrians marked the second anniversary of their uprising against President Bashar Assad. The rebellion began with largely peaceful protests but in response to a harsh regime crackdown turned into an insurgency and, by last summer, into a full-scale civil war.


The fighting has killed some 70,000 people and displaced 4 million of Syria's 22 million people, according to U.N. estimates.


The conflict remains deadlocked, despite some recent military gains by the rebels who control large stretches of northern and eastern Syria.


Also on Saturday, rebels set off a car bomb close to an office building in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, according to state TV and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.


The TV report said the car was rigged with more than two tons of explosives and that rebels entered the building after the blast but the rebels were pushed out of the building by government forces.


The explosion triggered clashes between rebels and regime troops, said the Observatory, an activist group. Regime forces also shelled several areas of the city, the Observatory said.


Late Friday, rebel fighters from the al-Qaida-linked group Jabhat al-Nusra and other Islamist factions seized a military base and munitions depot in the town of Khan Touman in the northern province of Aleppo, the Observatory said.


It quoted witnesses as saying rebel fighters drove off with truckloads of ammunitions and weapons. The Khan Touman base is only a few kilometers (miles) from a military engineering academy that is considered a key government stronghold in the province, the Observatory said.


Fighting was also reported Saturday in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, the Observatory said. Heavy gunfire was heard in an amateur video said to be showing the city. The narrator said regime forces fired mortar shells, while the Observatory reported a car bomb explosion.


The regime routinely pounds rebel strongholds with artillery and drops bombs from the air, sending civilians fleeing.


Assad has been digging in, particularly in the densely populated western part of the country. He has armed and mobilized loyalists, and repelled rebel attacks on his seat of power, the capital Damascus.


The rebels have appealed to the West for military aid, including anti-aircraft weapons, to help them break the stalemate.


On Friday, a European Union summit heard an appeal by Britain and France to lift the EU ban on arming the rebels.


The 27 national leaders were unable to reach a consensus and asked their foreign ministers, who will meet late next week in Dublin, to try to hash out a common position.


Samir Nashar, a member of the Syrian National Coalition, the main opposition group in exile, said he hoped France and Britain would defy the EU if the embargo remains in place.


"I prefer that there is a consensus and a joint resolution," he said Friday in Istanbul. "But if there's no consensus, I still think France and Britain will act unilaterally."


The French foreign minister suggested earlier this week that his country might arm the rebels even if the EU disagrees.


___


Associated Press writer Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, contributed to this report.


Associated Press
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