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Suicide bomb ups death toll in Syria to 269 since Sunday, groups say

Philippe Desmazes / AFP - Getty Images

Syrian rescue workers evacuate a woman and her two children from a building targeted by a government forces in the northern Syrian town of Al-Bab on Sunday.

Updated at 10:30 a.m. ET: An Islamist suicide car bomber killed at least 50 Syrian security men on Monday, an opposition group said, in one of the bloodiest single attacks on President Bashar Assad's forces. It came a day after Syrian government forces killed 179 people, said the Syrian Network for Human Rights, an activist monitoring group.

Syrian state media reported that a suicide bomber had targeted a rural development center in Sahl al-Ghab in Hama province, but put the death toll at two.

"A fighter from the Nusra Front blew himself up ... At least 50 were killed," said Rami Abdelrahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. "He drove his car to the center and then blew himself up. A series of explosions followed."

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Abdelrahman, whose monitoring group is based in Britain, said the rural development center was used by Syrian security forces as one of their biggest bases in the area. The Nusra Front is an Islamist group made up of militant Salafis, or ultra-orthodox Muslims. It has claimed responsibility for several suicide bombings in the past.

An opposition group and an activist organization say that 269 people have died in a rash of violence since Sunday. NBCNews.com's Dara Brown reports.

Civilians killed
Most of the deaths over the weekend were civilians killed in shelling of Damascus suburbs and included 14 women and 20 children, the human rights group said. The remainder were rebels killed in battles in the capital and the northern provinces of Idlib and Aleppo.

Ali Abu Salah / Shaam News Network via Reuters

Rescue workers free a boy from the rubble of a damaged building after an attack by a Syrian Air Force fighter jet on Sunday. EDITOR'S NOTE: Image supplied by the opposition Shaam News Network.

The violence continued on Monday, according to opposition activists, who reported that at least eight people were killed and dozens wounded in an army bombardment on rebel strongholds in southern Damascus. Warplanes fired rockets while tanks and artillery pounded five working-class Sunni neighborhoods, the activists said. The areas have been at the forefront of the 19-month-old revolt against Assad.

The Syrian government restricts journalists' access in Syria, making it difficult to verify reports from the ground.

Opposition campaigners said the Syrian army shelled rebel positions inside a Palestinian refugee camp on the edge of Damascus on Sunday, killing at least 20 people. Another 20 rebel fighters were reported killed in an airstrike in the northwest province of Idlib on Monday, according to the Observatory.

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Ammunition shortage

In Idlib, opposition sources said Islamist insurgents were forced to halt an offensive to take a big air base because of a shortage of ammunition, a problem that has dogged their campaign to cement a hold on the north by eliminating Assad's devastating edge in firepower.

The insurgents had launched the attack on the Taftanaz military airport at dawn on Saturday, using rocket launchers and at least three tanks captured from the military.

The arms shortage was scheduled to be discussed as fractured opposition groups seeking to topple Assad met in Qatar on Sunday for four days of unity talks. The talks marked the first concerted attempt to meld feuding, disparate groups based abroad and coordinate strategy with rebels fighting in Syria.

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Divisions between Islamists and secularists as well as between those inside Syria and opposition figures based abroad have foiled prior attempts to forge a united opposition and deterred Western powers from intervening militarily.

Government forces launched airstrikes around Damascus Saturday, flattening buildings. NBC's Lester Holt reports.

The conflict began with peaceful protest rallies that morphed into armed revolt when Assad, whose family has ruled Syria since 1971, tried to stamp them out with military might. About 32,000 people have been killed, wide swathes of the major Arab state have been wrecked and the civil war threatens to widen into a regional sectarian conflagration.

Analysts were skeptical the talks would bring immediate results.

They aim to broaden the Syrian National Council (SNC), the largest of the overseas-based opposition groups, from some 300 members to 400, and to pave the way for talks on Thursday to include other anti-Assad factions in the coalition.

"The main aim is to expand the council to include more of the social and political components. There will be new forces in the SNC," Abdulbaset Sieda, current leader of the Syrian National Council, told reporters in Doha ahead of the meeting.

The meetings would also elect a new executive committee and leader for the SNC, he said.

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People resisting the army of President Bashar al-Assad in northern Syria cope with loss and prepare for fighting.

A Qatar-based security analyst, who asked not to be named, said the meetings would bring a small step forward, at most.

"The Syrian National Council is just too divided," he said.

In Cairo, the international mediator on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, called on Sunday for world powers to issue a U.N. Security Council resolution based on a deal they reached in June to set up a transitional Syrian government.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking at the same news conference, dismissed the need for a resolution and said others were stoking violence by backing rebels. His comments highlighted the impasse over Syria's civil war.

Russia and China, both permanent council members, have vetoed three Western-backed U.N. draft resolutions condemning Assad's government for the violence. The other three permanent members are the United States, Britain and France. 

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