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Suicide bomb attack at Syria checkpoint kills 30

BEIRUT  — A key international conference aimed at ending Syria's civil war will be held in Geneva on Nov. 23 and 24, according to an announcement by the Arab League chief on Sunday.

But the country's warring factions are keeping up attacks, with a suicide truck bomb attack on a government checkpoint on the edge of the central city of Hama killing 30 people, according to both activists and the state media.

League chief Nabil Araby made the announcement at a news conference at the pan-Arab organization's headquarters in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, after talks with the Arab League-U.N. envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi.

The proposed conference will attempt to get Syria's rival sides to agree on a transitional government in that country based on a plan adopted in Geneva in June 2012.

Syria's conflict, now into its third year, has left over 100,000 dead.

A seasoned Algerian diplomat and an international troubleshooter, Brahimi said he planned to visit Qatar and Turkey on Monday as part of his preparations for the Geneva conference.

El-Araby said “many difficulties” face the proposed Geneva conference. He did not elaborate.

Syria's fractured and squabbling opposition movement immediately criticized the plan, saying they were not consulted. They said they could not accept any negotiations that allowed for the Syrian President Bashar Assad to remain as head of state in any transitional period.

“This is a conspiracy against the Syrian people,” said Bassam Dada, an official with the rebel Free Syrian Army. “The most important request of the Syrian people — the distancing of Bashar (Assad) from the transitional period — was ignored,” he said.

He said the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition, the main alliance of political opposition groups, would meet Nov. 1 to discuss the matter further.

Meanwhile, Syrian rebels drove a truck laden with over a ton of explosives into the post at the eastern entrance of Hama, the state news agency SANA said.

SANA says the explosion appeared to have set ablaze a gasoline truck nearby, increasing the damage and casualties.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Al Qaeda-linked Jabhat Nusra, or Nusra Front, had carried out the attack. Both SANA and the Observatory said at least 30 had died.

It was the second deadly assault on a checkpoint in two days. On Saturday, rebels led by Nusra fighters set off a car bomb while assaulting a checkpoint near Damascus, killing 16 soldiers.

The high-profile role played by Nusra and other Al Qaeda-linked militants, who stage some of the most aggressive attacks, is yet another obstacle standing in the way of a negotiated settlement.

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