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David Cameron, Vladimir Putin hopeful on Syria

Want factions to meet at talks set for next month

British Prime Minister David Cameron, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke at a press conference at 10 Downing Street in London.

Anthony Devlin/Associated Press

British Prime Minister David Cameron, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke at a press conference at 10 Downing Street in London.

LONDON — The leaders of Britain and Russia said Sunday they are hopeful that Syria’s warring factions can resolve their differences at upcoming peace talks tentatively planned for next month in Geneva.

Speaking at Prime Minister David Cameron’s office, President Vladimir Putin of Russia said both nations are still pressing for talks between representatives of Syrian ruler Bashar Assad and the disparate rebel movement that seeks to drive him from power.

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Asked whether the proposed introduction of a ‘‘no fly zone’’ over parts of Syria or moves by Western powers to funnel weapons to Syria’s rebels had sabotaged the peace talks, Putin said no.

‘‘I don’t think that the idea of the conference is buried for good,’’ he said. ‘‘This is one of the most reasonable and acceptable ways of solving this problem. Only by joint efforts is it possible to definitively settle the problem and persuade the warring sides to sit down for talks.’’

In Syria on Sunday, state TV and witnesses said an explosion shook a Damascus neighborhood where several embassies and a military airport are located. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a car bomb had been detonated at a checkpoint near the military airport in the western neighborhood of Mazzeh.

There were reports of casualties in the bombing, but details were not immediately available.

Also Sunday, Sunni extremists blew up a Shi’ite mosque in an eastern village of Hatla, which was stormed by rebels last week. Activists said Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria carried out the attack.

Last week, the White House announced the administration has agreed, after months of hesitation, to start supplying Syrian rebels with military aid.

Russia and European powers, including Britain and France, are at loggerheads on the issue of supplying arms to the different sides of the Syrian conflict, with Russia sending arms to Assad’s military, while reacting angrily to any move by Western nations to do the same to Assad’s opponents.

Putin defended the distinction Sunday, saying Russia was providing arms ‘‘to the legitimate government of Syria in full conformity with the norms of international law.’’

Cameron admitted Russia and Britain are in opposition but told journalists there is still common ground.

‘‘It is no secret that President Putin and I have had our disagreements on some of these issues, but what I take from our conversation today is that we can overcome these differences if we recognize that we share some fundamental aims: to end this conflict; to stop Syria breaking apart; to let the Syrians choose who governs them; and to take the fight to the extremists and defeat them.’’

Although Britain was one of the leaders in the push to lift the European arms embargo on Syrian rebels, Cameron’s government faces opposition if it moves to arm the rebels.

Lawmakers from across the political spectrum have expressed unease with the idea of sending weapons to Syria, with many warning they could end up in the hands of Muslim extremists loyal to Al Qaeda.

Putin was in London ahead of the G-8 summit of world leaders in Northern Ireland, which begins this week.

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