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Originally published Saturday, December 15, 2012 at 8:35 PM

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Syria tells U.N. sanctions at root of troubles

The civil war that came after the Syrian government's crackdown on peaceful protests has left many cities and suburbs devastated.

The New York Times

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BEIRUT — Receiving a high-level U.N. delegation on Saturday in Damascus, Syria's foreign minister blamed the country's problems on international sanctions and called on the U.N. to push for lifting the measures, which were imposed to punish the government for its crackdown on pro-democracy protesters that spiraled into armed conflict.

Government forces continued air and artillery strikes in the Damascus suburbs as a top U.N. official, Valerie Amos, visited the capital to investigate the needs of Syrians during a conflict that has killed more than 40,000 people and led more than 500,000 Syrians to flee the country, with many more displaced inside Syria.

The civil war that came after the crackdown on peaceful protests has left many cities and suburbs devastated as the government levels rebellious neighborhoods and some rebels set off deadly car bombs.

Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem and other officials placed the blame not on the crackdown but elsewhere, according to Syrian and foreign-news reports, saying: "The sanctions imposed by the United States and countries of the European Union on Syria are responsible for the suffering of the Syrian people."

Syrian state news media reported that Leila Zerrougui, the U.N. special representative for children and armed conflict, visited camps for families displaced by the fighting and called on all sides to protect children.

In Jordan, officials who defected from the Syrian government said they had formed a new opposition group headed by Assad's former prime minister, Riyad Farid Hijab, one of the highest-ranking officials to desert the government during the conflict.

The group, the National Free Coalition of the Workers of Syrian Government Institutions, aims to keep state structures intact if Assad's government falls, Reuters reported.

The group includes the former deputy oil minister and others, who, at a news conference in Amman, Jordan, expressed support for the Free Syrian Army rebel coalition and the Syrian National Coalition, recently recognized by the United States and others as the legitimate representative of Syrians.

In the northern city of Aleppo, rebels claimed to have taken another important military installation, the region's infantry school, though some reports said fighting continued there Saturday.

Fighting continued east of Damascus, as activists reported airstrikes in the village of Beit Saham, near the Damascus airport. The government claims to have pushed rebels out of some southern suburbs after heavy shelling, and is now focusing attacks in the east in a continuing effort to seal off the capital.

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