AMMAN - Syrian army deserters killed seven soldiers in an attack on an armored convoy on Tuesday, an activist group said, a day ahead of an Arab League visit which aims to open dialogue between President Bashar Assad and his opponents.

Residents and activists said the fighting took place at a roadblock on the edge of the northwestern town of Maarat al-Numaan, where soldiers who defected during a military assault in the central province of Homs had gathered.

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The assault on Homs was one of the largest offensives to crush a seven-month-old popular uprising against Assad that is evolving into a nascent armed insurgency.

Assad has agreed to meet an Arab League committee in Damascus on Wednesday. Regional officials said Syrian authorities had dropped objections to the delegation being led by Qatar, which has sharply criticized Assad.


"What is hoped is that the violence will end, a dialogue will start and reforms will be achieved," said Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby.

The six nation committee also comprises Egypt, which has been hosting members of the Syrian opposition, as well as Algeria, Oman, Sudan and Yemen - countries seen as more sympathetic to Assad.

Assad's government says it is serious about political reform, which militants wanted to wreck. The opposition says Assad has no plan to relax his grip on power.

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