DAMASCUS // Syria's rebels suffered a blow yesterday as dozens of their fighters were killed by regime forces near Damascus yesterday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The government said the 62 insurgents who were killed were members of Al Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.
Diplomatic efforts have so far failed to stop the civil war that pits rebels against forces loyal to Bashar Al Assad, Syria's president.
Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE Foreign Minister, met Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN and Arab League envoy to Syria.
During the meeting, Sheikh Abdullah and Mr Brahimi discussed the latest diplomatic efforts by Arab and international parties to settle the conflict in Syria.
They also exchanged views on convening the Geneva 2 conference to bring the Syrian factions to the table
While diplomatic efforts continued, the fighting continued in Syria.
"At least 62 rebels fell as martyrs, most of them youths, and eight others are missing after an ambush by regime forces at dawn near the industrial city of Adra" north-east of Damascus, the observatory said.
A military source quoted by state news agency Sana said the "army carried out an ambush on a group of terrorists belonging to Al Nusra Front that was trying to infiltrate Eastern Ghouta and attack a military post".
"All the terrorists were killed and their arms captured," the source added, without giving a toll.
Adra, 35 kilometres from Damascus, is the gateway to Eastern Ghouta, a farming region where a large number of rebels are based.
Saudi Arabia has offered Russia economic incentives including a major arms deal and a pledge not to challenge Russian gas sales if Moscow scales back support for Mr Al Assad, Middle East sources and Western diplomats said yesterday.
The proposed deal between two power brokers in Syria's devastating civil war was set out by Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow last week, they said.
Russia has supported Assad with arms and diplomatic cover throughout the war and any change in Moscow's stance would remove a major obstacle to action on Syria by the United Nations Security Council.
Syrian opposition sources close to Saudi Arabia said Prince Bandar offered to buy up to US$15 billion (Dh55bn) of Russian weapons as well as ensuring that Gulf gas would not threaten Russia's position as a main gas supplier to Europe. In return, Saudi Arabia wanted Moscow to ease its strong support of Mr Al Assad and agree not to block any future Security Council Resolution on Syria, they said.
Meanwhile, rights group Amnesty International issued a report saying that entire neighbourhoods of Aleppo have been flattened over the past year, with residents bombed from the air and abused on the ground.
"Aleppo has been utterly devastated, its people fleeing the conflagration in huge numbers," said Amnesty's senior crisis response adviser Donatella Rovera.
The report came as the London-based group released satellite images of several Aleppo districts, taken before and after clashes between government and rebel forces.
The images are part of an Amnesty analysis of the effect of the civil war on the northern city, which is Syria's commercial hub.
They show "alarming trends in how the conflict is being fought: with utter disregard for the rules of international humanitarian law, causing extensive destruction, death, and displacement", Amnesty said.
Aleppo became a battleground in July last year, when opposition fighters in the neighbouring countryside staged an offensive.
Ever since, the city has fallen into a stalemate, with much of eastern Aleppo in rebel hands and the west mostly under army control.
* With additional reporting by Reuters and WAM