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Syrian President Bashar Assad to give speech Sunday

By Barbara Surk

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Jan. 5 2013 2:13 p.m. MST

Government troops also arrested several residents in raids in the suburb of Qatana, the Observatory said. Fighting was also heavy in the central province of Hama, Idlib, and in the southern part of the country, in Daraa, the birthplace of the Syrian uprising. Besides the deaths in Daraya, 35 people were killed around the country, the group said.

There was also fighting on the road to the Damascus International Airport, which has not been functioning since last month when clashes first erupted on the airport road, and international airlines have yet to resume flights to the capital. Airport officials have said the facility is open, but have not said which flights are operating.

Rebels frequently target government officials for assassination, and have killed several regime figures since the revolt began, including a suicide bombing in December that wounded Interior Minister Mohammed al-Shaar. After the Dec. 12 blast, al-Shaar was secretly sent to neighboring Lebanon for treatment of a back injury, but was rushed out of a Beirut hospital and back home two weeks later for fear of being arrested by Lebanese authorities.

On Saturday, SANA denied reports that al-Shaar had died, saying the minister is "in good health and recovering."

State media also said Syrian journalist Suheil al-Ali who worked for the Dunya pro-government television station died Friday of wounds sustained in a shooting attack in the suburbs of Damascus four days ago. The SANA state news agency blamed a "terrorist," the term the government uses for those trying to topple Assad.

In Tehran, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad discussed the conflict and ways to end it with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, Iranian State TV said. Iran is one of Syria's strongest allies.

The conflict has increasingly taken sectarian overtones, with predominantly Sunni Muslim rebels fighting the ruling regime that is dominated by Alawites, an offshoot group of Shiite Islam.

Also on Saturday, an Arab League official said the group's foreign ministers will hold an emergency meeting in the coming days in Cairo to discuss ways to assist Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

More than half a million Syrians have fled violence and sought shelter in neighboring countries, including some 130,000 to Lebanon. The country's government has requested $180 million from international donors to help its efforts with refugees.

Associated Press Writers Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, Zeina Karam in Beirut, Aya Batrawy in Cairo, Abdullah Shihri in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and Ali Akbar Dareini in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.

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