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'Friends of Syria' meet, rebels declare 'disaster areas'

Diplomats from more than 60 countries have met in the Netherlands to discuss a tightening of sanctions in Syria. Amid further reports of violence, the opposition has proclaimed parts of Damascus "disaster areas."

The meeting near The Hague on Thursday was focused on the tightening of loopholes to better enforce current sanctions, which include an oil and arms embargo.

"We need vigorous implementation," Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal told the opening of the "Friends of Syria" sanctions working group. "Sanctions will only have an impact if they are carried out effectively," Rosenthal went on. "That is how we can make a difference."

The coalition known as the "Friends of the Syrian People" was formed after attempts to reach an agreement on Syria at the UN Security Council failed.

A Free Syrian Army sniper aims his weapon at his position at the Bustan Al-Basha front line in southeastern Aleppo September 18, 2012. REUTERS/Zain Karam (SYRIA - Tags: CONFLICT CIVIL UNREST POLITICS)

Rebels have called for the international intervention

The group includes EU and Arab League members that have introduced oil and weapons embargos as well as travel restrictions on the top levels within the regime and members of President Bashar Assad's family. Another meeting is planned in Morocco in October and another later in Italy.

Petrol station blast, helicopter crash

There were reports that scores of people had been killed in a blast at a petrol station on Thursday in the northern province of al-Raqa, although the figures from the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights could not be confirmed.

The observatory, which claimed the explosion had been caused by a fighter jet, initially put the number of dead at more than 50. Later it said that at least 30 had died, with another 83 people injured.

In another incident, state television said a military helicopter was downed outside Damascus after an accident with a civilian aircraft, state television said.

"This morning's helicopter crash resulted from an accident in the air when the helicopter's rotor clipped the tail of a Syrian Air plane carrying 200 passengers," it said.

The television report said that the airplane had landed safely, quoting both the airline and the airport. Rebels said that they had shot the plane down and it was unclear if there were military casualties.

Southern Damascus ‘disaster areas'

The opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) meanwhile declared suburbs in the southern part of Damascus as "disaster areas" after an onslaught by government troops.

"The international community and Arab countries should immediately intervene to save the people of the world's oldest capital city (Damascus)," a statement from the council read.

Activists also said dozens had died in fighting in the town of Aleppo, and in the central Syrian city of Hama, a citizen journalist they named as “Abu Hassan” was killed when his home was targeted by government troops.

rc/ipj (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)