DAMASCUS, Jan. 4 (Xinhua) -- Clashes continued between armed rebels and President Bashar al-Assad's troops near the Syrian capital of Damascus and elsewhere despite international efforts to defuse the 22-month crisis.
A car bomb tore through a gas station in Damascus late Thursday, killing at least nine people, including children, and injuring 40 others.
All the killed were civilians standing in queues to fill their buckets and plastic containers with heating diesel at Qasioun gas station near the Hamish military hospital, pro-government al-Ekhbaria TV said.
Blasts have become increasingly common in Syria at a time when the United Nations said more than 60,000 people had died in the Syrian conflict.
Earlier on Thursday, a suicide car bomb went off near an army checkpoint in Syria's northern province of Idlib, causing only material damages.
Clashes between rebel groups and government forces continued unabated in several areas across the country.
The drumbeat of shells reverberated across several districts of Damascus, where insurgents attempted to take control of military bases but fared poorly.
The government troops unleashed a strong firepower to clear the peripheries of Damascus from armed rebels. The pro-government al-Watan daily said Thursday that the suburb of Daraya, a flashpoint, was expected to be declared secure within several hours.
Opposition forces said a day earlier that more than 70 people were killed in an airstrike on the Damascus suburb of Mlaiha.
Gen. Abdullah Ayoub, Syrian army chief of staff, stressed on Thursday the "conspiracy against Syria has fallen" and urged the Syrian troops to continue their holy tasks in "crushing armed terrorist groups and their hideouts."
The United Nations said high-level talks on Syria involving Moscow, Washington and the UN-Arab league joint special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi are expected next week
"There are new contacts. There is a new effort underway," said Masood Khan, president of the UN Security Council for January, who added Brahimi was in Moscow over the holidays.
"I think that as a follow-up to his meeting there could be a trilateral meeting .. next week," Khan said, adding Brahimi also spoke with Damascus representatives.
As the violence grinds on, the opposition National Democratic Bloc has called for the formation of a transitional government to pave the way for a national inclusive dialogue and parliamentarian elections under international supervision.
The Syrian conflict, now in its third year, has battered the economy amid Western sanctions.
Inflation has hit the record and reportedly reached 48 percent last month. The Syrian currency also plunged and lost nearly 50 percent of its value.
However, the Syrian government said on Thursday that the economy is still stable and able to face all challenges despite the continuing unrest that has heavily born down on all kinds of business.
"The crisis has begun abating and this could be clearly shown by the availability of diesel fuel and cooking gas," which were in acute shortage due to transportation difficulties in violence-hit areas, said Minister of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection Qadri Jamil.
Jamil blamed the "unjust" Western sanctions and stressed Syria was studying new measures to break the siege. He believed positive impacts would appear within the next few weeks.
The economic situation in Syria is "difficult but it was harder two months ago. The Syrian economy is like the heart that needs arteries to pump blood to and from it, and the most important artery is the internal and external transport and bank transfers."