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Syria rebels seize nation's largest dam

BEIRUT -- Rebels have captured Syria's biggest hydroelectric dam and battled army tank units near the center of Damascus, activists said as the opposition renewed an offer yesterday to negotiate the departure of President Bashar al-Assad.

On the Turkish border, nine people were killed when a car arriving from rebel-held territory in northwestern Syria blew up at the Reyhanli frontier crossing; Turkish officials said it was unclear whether it was a suicide attack or an accident.

The rebel seizure of the Taqba dam, a prestige project on the Euphrates River completed by Assad's father in the 1970s, may have only limited impact on already patchy power supplies but, along with the fighting in the capital, it provided more evidence that the president is ever more beleaguered, if still tenacious.

Moaz Alkhatib, exile leader of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, said he received no response to his offer to discuss a handover of power with the Assad government, but said the invitation still stood despite the passing of an initial deadline for a response on Sunday.

The president has given no sign of wanting to negotiate his own departure, even as military reverses over two years have put half the country in rebel hands and left many in his Alawite minority fearing for the worst if the mainly Sunni Muslim revolt overturns their four decades of pre-eminence.

Yesterday, after Alkhatib's remarks on talks, the state news agency quoted Assad as saying: "Syria will not give up on its principles however great the pressure and the conspiracies, which do not target Syria alone but all Arabs."

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and other opposition activists said Islamist fighters seized army positions on Sunday around the Taqba dam, near the town of Thawra, 90 miles southeast of Aleppo. It was unclear whether the electricity plant was still operating.

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