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Al-Qaeda Affiliate Calls For Truce With Syrian Rebels

The leader of an Al-Qaeda-linked group in Syria has called for a cease-fire with other rebel groups in a bid to end several days of fighting among opposition forces.

Abu Mohammad al-Golani, head of the Al-Nusra Front, made the truce proposal in an audio recording posted on Twitter.

Golani put much of the blame for the fighting on another Al-Qaeda-linked group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on January 7 that at least 274 people have been killed in fighting between rebels and jihadists in recent days in the Jabal Zawiya district of northwestern Idlib Province.

The observatory said rebels had executed 34 foreign jihadists from the Islamic State and another group, Jund al-Aqsa.

In other news, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) says the first batch of chemicals from Syria's weapons arsenal have been removed from the country.

The OPCW said the chemicals were moved from two sites to the port of Latakia, where they were loaded onto a Danish ship on January 7.

The ship then sailed for international waters accompanied by naval escorts from Denmark, Norway, and Syria.

The transport of the chemicals to Latakia missed a December 31 deadline because of logistical problems, bad weather, and Syria's ongoing conflict.

The year-end deadline was agreed under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States and backed by the UN Security Council that aims to get rid of all of Syria's chemical weapons by mid-2014.

The chemicals are to be destroyed on a U.S. ship at sea.

Meanwhile, the United Nations says it has stopped counting victims of the Syrian conflict, as it can no longer verify the sources of information.

Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said on January 7 that UN officials had no access on the ground and were unable to verify casualty numbers provided by others.

The UN said in July that there were more than 100,000 casualties, counting only victims whose name and place and date of death could be verified.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 130,000 people have been killed in violence in Syria since March 2011.

Colville said the UN could not endorse that, or anyone else's, count.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, and dpa