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Rebels ambushed, says Syrian state media

Syria state media claims government troops killed 175 rebel fighters near Damascus. An opposition source said the ambush was set up by the Hezbollah militias allied with President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Syria's state news agency SANA said Wednesday government troops had killed 175 rebels, many of them al Qaida-linked fighters, near Damascus. Syrian television showed bodies it claimed were the remains of rebels.

It said the assault took place southeast of Damascus, in the eastern Ghouta area, where a chemical attack last August killed hundreds of people and prompted the UN to demand that Assad hand over such weapons.

SANA said many of those killed in the ambush early Wednesday were Saudis, Qataris and Chechens fighting with the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front rebel group. Some bodies were dressed in uniforms but most wore civilian clothes.

Independent verification was not possible.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had information that 152 had been killed and seven rebels had been captured by government troops.

Al-Manar television of the Lebanon-based Hezbollah broadcast footage purporting to show people running in different directions after at least two bomb blasts. Syrian army tanks were also visible in the footage.

The ambush claim follows

inconclusive negotiations

in Geneva earlier this month.

Chemicals handover slow

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which with the UN is supervising Assad's weapons handover, called on Syria on Wednesday to "accelerate its efforts."

Syria shipped out a fourth consignment for disposal at sea from the port city of Latakia on Wednesday after missing a string of deadlines.

The mustard gas is to be destroyed aboard a US vessel, the MV Cape Ray.

Assad's regime faces a deadline of June 30 to eliminate its entire chemical arsenal.

ipj/ccp (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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