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France seeks partial no-fly zone above Syria

Russians assert Damascus won’t deploy chemical weapons

Syrians tried to reach the body of a man in the rubble of a building bombed by a Syrian warplane in Aleppo on Thursday.


Syrians tried to reach the body of a man in the rubble of a building bombed by a Syrian warplane in Aleppo on Thursday.

BEIRUT — France signaled Thursday that it is prepared to take part in enforcing a partial no-fly zone over Syria, piling pressure on President Bashar Assad’s embattled regime as it widens a major offen­sive against rebels in ­Damascus and surrounding areas.

Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian of France urged the international community to consider backing a no-fly zone over parts of Syria, but cautioned that closing the Arab nation’s entire air space would be tantamount to ‘‘going to war’’ and require a willing inter­national coalition that does not yet exist.

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He told France 24 television that Paris would participate in a full no-fly operation if it followed international legal principles. But for now, he suggested that a partial closure — which US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington was considering — should be studied.

Syria’s chief backer, Russia, meanwhile, said it was working closely with the Damascus government to ensure that its arsenal of chemical weapons stays under firm control and has won promises that it will not be used or moved.

In Syria, troops backed by tanks and helicopters broke ­into the Damascus suburb of Daraya, the scene of intense fighting in the last two days. At least 18 people were killed.

Across the country, at least 100 people died Thursday in shelling and clashes, according to the Britain-based Syrian ­Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees.

The bloodshed coincided with the departure from the Syrian capital of the last of the United Nations military ­observers after their mission failed. The observers were part of a six-point peace plan by outgoing envoy Kofi Annan.

As the country slides deeper into civil war, activist groups now routinely report the deaths of between 100 and 250 people on a daily basis, but it is virtually impossible to verify those figures.

Residents of Damascus said troops were bombing Daraya and nearby Moadamiyeh from the Qasioun mountain overlooking Damascus.

‘‘It’s just another regular day in Damascus,’’ said a resident of the city of 1.7 million, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. ‘‘I woke up to the sound of explosions, and it hasn’t stopped since.’’

In the eastern part of the country, Syrian rebels fought with troops in al-Bukamal, across the border from the Iraqi town of Qaim.

The border crossing has been in rebel hands since last month, but wresting control of al-Bukamal itself from regime troops would expand the opposition foothold along the frontier.

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