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The Latest Pope seeks talks to avert Syria ’catastrophe’

BEIRUT — The Latest on the Syrian conflict (all times local):

1:45 p.m.

Pope Francis is pressing for negotiations to avoid a “humanitarian catastrophe” from a looming battle in Syria.

Francis appealed on Sunday to the international community and “all the actors involved” to use diplomacy, dialogue and negotiations “in respect for international humanitarian law and to safeguard the lives of civilians.”

Addressing faithful in St. Peter’s Square, Francis said “the winds of war are still blowing and troubling news reaches us about the risks of a possible humanitarian catastrophe” in Syria’s Idlib province.

That’s where Syrian opposition forces have dug trenches around their bases, anticipating a ground offensive on their last major stronghold. The battle for Idlib might be the last in seven years of civil war.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians in the Idlib area have nowhere to flee.

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1:40 p.m.

A group monitoring the Syrian war says at least two military personnel were killed and 11 wounded in overnight explosions in a military airport on the edge of the capital.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday the blasts that rocked Damascus are believed to have been caused by an Israeli strike.

Syrian pro-government media initially blamed the blasts on Israel. But state media later quoted an unnamed Syrian military official as saying the explosions were caused by an electrical malfunction in a munition depot nearby.

The Observatory relies on various sources on the ground to monitor the war.

The government has blamed Israel for previous attacks on the airport. Israel rarely acknowledges such strikes, but has recently targeted suspected Iranian posts inside Syria.