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Opposition: Dozens killed as Syrian warplanes hit gas station

By the CNN Wire Staff
September 21, 2012 -- Updated 0138 GMT (0938 HKT)
In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war: In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war:
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Syrian minister says continue violence makes reconciliation more elusive
  • Syria's president says opposition "has no support," yet calls dialogue imperative
  • Al-Assad also criticizes Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey for trying to create a "Libyan scenario"
  • An opposition group reports at least 250 deaths in Syrian violence on Thursday

Read a version of this story in Arabic

Damascus, Syria (CNN) -- Syrian government warplanes targeted a northern town Thursday, hitting a gas station and triggering an explosion that killed at least 55 people, opposition forces said.

It's the latest salvo in Syria's bloody 18-month-old civil war that shows no sign of letting up. Dozens were wounded in the airstrike in Raqqa province that two opposition groups said was carried out by Syrian government aircraft.

The opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria distributed videos of the site, a flat and barren landscape. They showed black smoke, charred and destroyed vehicles, holes in the ground and people milling around corpses.

The strike came a day after rebels seized a border crossing in Raqqa near Syria's border with Turkey.

The LCC claimed another 15 people were found dead at a regional security headquarters in the province.

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Inside the battle for Aleppo

Earlier Thursday, five people were reported killed from aerial shelling of residential neighborhoods in Aleppo, and MiG warplane activity was reported in Damascus countryside villages, the LCC said.

The LCC said 250 people were killed in Syrian violence Thursday.

Damascus residents 'stuck in the middle'

Here's a roundup of other developments in Syria's bloody conflict:

Syrian leader calls it imperative to avoid 'Libyan scenario'

In a rare interview with Arab media, President Bashar al-Assad stressed that positive change can only happen with the head of state taking the lead -- saying that Syria must, and will, avoid a "Libyan scenario" in which a longtime leader's ouster leads to chaos.

Al-Assad made his comments in an interview with Al-Ahram al-Arabi magazine, part of the Egyptian state-run Al-Ahram Publishing House, excerpts of which were posted online Thursday.

As Syrian officials have for months, the president criticized Saudi Arabia and Qatar for "providing weapons and money to terrorists to repeat the Libyan scenario," which ended with Moammar Gadhafi's death and continuing issues about security and governance. And al-Assad insisted foreign intervention would not, and should not, shape Syria's future.

In one breath, he dismissed the armed opposition -- claiming "they have no support in society" -- and in another, he said that "dialogue with the opposition is the only way to address the crisis."

Ali Haider, Syria's minister of reconciliation whose job is to persuade opposition fighters to lay down their weapons, acknowledged to CNN that the longer the fighting continues, the harder it is to achieve reconciliation.

Haider said for any given area, the goal is "an immediate cease-fire where I can guarantee that if the Syrian army was not attacked, they would not fire back at all." But he said that every attack and every casualty makes peace even more elusive.

"The problem is, every time there is blood shed from either side, we get delayed weeks," he said. "That's why we are very careful that, in the areas we have stability, that we maintain those areas without armed groups."

While claiming successes in talking opposition fighters in places such as the Damascus suburb of Qudsaya, the minister also spoke about the need for military victories.

"We will retake the north, ... the big cities," he said. "As long as they carry weapons against us, we must fight against them."

Helicopter crash

Syria's rebels and government offered different stories about what caused a helicopter to crash Thursday morning in a suburb of Damascus.

The government said the chopper clipped the tail of a passenger plane, causing no injuries to the passengers. But the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebel forces downed the helicopter.

There have been no confirmed reports on whether anyone was injured or killed on the helicopter, which crashed near Douma.

The plane, carrying about 200 passengers, landed safely at Damascus airport after the incident, according to Syrian state TV.

Foreign fighters in Syria

Forces loyal to al-Assad killed more than 100 foreign fighters Thursday, described as "Afghani terrorists," who were holed up at a school in Aleppo, according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency.

The agency did not say when or how the fighters were killed, nor did it spell out details about how Syrian forces determined they were Afghan fighters.

Syria's government has long insisted that extremists and terrorists from other countries are helping Syria's rebel forces. SANA reported that "terrorists" trying to enter Syria from Lebanon were foiled Wednesday night.

Libyan fighting in Syria symbolizes fears

Kidnapping reported

Armed rebels kidnapped a religious endowments director in the southwestern Syrian city of Daraa, while "terrorists" shot and killed a government official in the northern city of Hasaka, according to SANA.

Muammar al-Shahadat, who oversaw operations in the provinces of Daraa and Sweida, was seized by "armed terrorists" in a vehicle, SANA said.

The news agency identified the slain government official as Marwan al-Husein, who oversaw the production department at the branch of the Military Housing Establishment in Hasaka.

More sanctions?

Friends of the Syrian People, a group of more than 60 countries working for regime change in Syria, considered tightening economic sanctions against the country's government Thursday.

Participants include all the European Union countries, the United States, Canada, Australia, all the Gulf states, Jordan, Turkey, members of the Arab League and other nations. They met at The Hague in the Netherlands.

"By imposing sanctions, we are sending an important message and helping to further isolate the regime. But sanctions will only have an impact if they are carried out effectively. That is how we can make a difference," Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal said.

Russian aid

A Russian aircraft carrying 38 tons of food supplies for beleaguered Syrians arrived Thursday in Damascus, according to SANA.

Alexander Bogdanov, deputy director of the emergencies department at the Russian Ministry of Extraordinary Situations, said the supplies included sugar, meat, milk and canned fish.

"This aid is evidence of Russia's principled stances toward Syria and the strong and solid relations between the Syrian and Russian governments and peoples," said Hassan Hijazi, Syria's assistant minister of social affairs and labor.

Christians in Syria fear uncertain future

CNN's Nic Robertson, Hamdi Alkhshali, Amir Ahmed and Joe Sterling contributed to this report.

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