* Russia warns against unilateral U.S. action in Syria

* At least 20 bodies found after Syria troops overrun suburb

* Syria says foreign intervention "impossible"

By Dominic Evans

BEIRUT, Aug 21 (Reuters) - Russia warned the West on Tuesday against unilateral action on Syria, a day after U.S. President Barack Obama threatened "enormous consequences" if his Syrian counterpart used chemical or biological arms or even moved them in a menacing way.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking after meeting China's top diplomat, said Moscow and Beijing were committed to "the need to strictly adhere to the norms of international law...and not to allow their violation".

Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil, also speaking in Moscow, dismissed Obama's threat as media fodder.

"Direct military intervention in Syria is impossible because whoever thinks about it ... is heading towards a confrontation wider than Syria's borders," he told a news conference.

Jamil said the West was seeking an excuse to intervene, likening the focus on Syria's chemical weapons with the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq by U.S.-led forces on what proved to be groundless suspicions that Saddam Hussein was concealing weapons of mass destruction.

Russia and China have opposed military intervention in Syria throughout a 17-month-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad. They have vetoed three U.N. Security Council resolutions backed by Western and Arab states that would have put more pressure on Damascus to end violence that has cost 18,000 lives.

In one of the latest battle zones, Syrian troops and tanks overran the Damascus suburbs of Mouadamiya on Tuesday, killing at least 20 young men and burning shops and houses before pulling back, residents and opposition activists said.

The bodies of the men, mostly shot at point-blank range, were found in basements and looted premises, bringing to 50 the death toll from the army's two-day-old offensive to drive rebels from the Sunni Muslim suburb in the southwest of the capital.

"People are just starting to get out of their homes to see the destruction," said one activist who gave her name as Hayat.

Opposition sources said Free Syrian Army rebels left Mouadamiya at dawn under heavy aerial and ground bombardment.

State-imposed curbs on media made it impossible to verify the reports of the violence, which followed another bloody day on Monday, when about 200 people were killed across the country, according to the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"RED LINE"

The United States and its allies have shown little appetite for intervention to halt the bloodshed on the lines of last year's NATO campaign that helped topple Libya's Muammar Gaddafi.

But Obama used some of his strongest language yet on Monday to warn Assad not to use unconventional weapons.

"We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is (if) we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilised," he said. "That would change my calculus."

Syria last month acknowledged for the first time that it had chemical or biological weapons and said it could use them if foreign countries attacked it.

"We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people," Obama said, perhaps referring to Lebanon's Shi'ite Hezbollah group, an Iranian-backed ally of Assad, or to Islamist militants.

The U.S.-based Global Security website says there are four suspected chemical weapons sites in Syria producing the nerve agents VX, sarin and tabun. It does not cite its sources.

Israel, still formally at war with Syria, has also debated whether to attack the unconventional arms sites which it views as its gravest peril from the conflict next door.

Obama has been reluctant to embroil the United States in another war in the Middle East and refuses to arm Syrian rebels, partly for fear that some of those fighting the Iranian-backed president are Islamist radicals equally hostile to the West.

Rebels have seized swathes of territory in northern Syria near Turkey, which now hosts 70,000 Syrian refugees and which has suggested that the United Nations might need to create a "safe zone" in Syria if that total topped 10,000.

But setting up a safe haven would require imposing a no-fly zone, an idea which U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said last week was not a "front-burner" issue for Washington.

With diplomatic efforts to end the war stymied by divisions between world powers and regional rivalries, Syria faces the prospect of a prolonged conflict that increasingly sets a mainly Sunni Muslim opposition against Assad's Alawite minority.

That sectarian faultline also flared in neighbouring Lebanon, where two people were killed and more than 60 wounded in the northern port city of Tripoli, a mainly Sunni city with a staunchly pro-Assad Alawite minority.

Gunmen in the Sunni district of Bab al-Tabbaneh and their Alawite rivals in Jebel Mohsen exchanged gun and grenade fire in sporadic fighting overnight and into the day, despite action by Lebanese army troops deployed in the port city, residents said.

The wounded included 10 soldiers, the army said.

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lebanon Hussein Ali Omar, 60, one of 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims that Syrian rebels have been holding for three months in Syria, hugs his mother, right, upon arrival at his house in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, 2012. Syrian rebels freed Omar on Saturday in a move aimed at easing cross-border tensions after a wave of abductions of Syrian citizens in Lebanon. The Shiite pilgrims were abducted May 22 after crossing into Syria from Turkey on their way to Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)


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France24 correspondents Matthieu Mabin and Sofia Amara report from the front lines of a rebel offensive against the Syrian army in Damascus.

Watch the exclusive report in the video below.

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syria This image made from video and released by Shaam News Network and accessed Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012, purports to show the funeral of children in Daraya, near Damascus, Syria. Syrian troops backed by tanks and helicopters broke into a Damascus suburb on Thursday following two days of shelling and intense clashes as part of a widening offensive by President Bashar Assad's forces to seize control of parts of the capital and surrounding areas from rebel fighters, activists said. At least 15 people were killed in the offensive on Daraya, only a few miles (kilometers) southwest of Damascus. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network SNN via AP video)


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Clashes between Assad supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime killed two people in Lebanon on Friday, the Associated Press reports. 17 people were injured.

The AP gives more context:

Syria was in virtual control of its smaller neighbor for many years, posting tens of thousands of troops in Lebanon, before withdrawing under pressure in 2005. Even without soldiers on the ground, Syria remains influential, and its civil war has stirred longstanding tensions that have lain under Lebanon's surface.

Read more on HuffPost World.

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lebanon A Sunni gunman fires a gun during clashes that erupted between pro and anti-Syrian regime gunmen in the northern port city of Tripoli, Lebanon, Friday, Aug. 24, 2012. The latest round of fighting first erupted on Monday in northern Lebanon and at least 15 have been killed in Tripoli this week and more than 100 have been wounded in fighting that is a spillover from Syria's civil war. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)


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@ KenRoth : UN reports 200,000 #Syria refugees, 30,000 in past week alone. Many more internally displaced not counted. http://t.co/BaM6u59j

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syria Syrian boy Musataf Alhafiz, 11, who fled his home with his family due to fighting between the Syrian army and the rebels, carries his brother Saif, 9 months, while he and others take refuge at the Bab Al-Salameh border crossing, in hopes of entering one of the refugee camps in Turkey, near the Syrian town of Azaz, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012. Thousands of Syrians who have been displaced by the country's civil war are struggling to find safe shelter while shelling and airstrikes by government forces continue. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)


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Helicopter gunships shelled Damascus on Wednesday as Syrian security forces intensified their assault on the capital. Activists report that at least 47 people were killed.

"The whole of Damascus is shaking with the sound of shelling," a woman in the neighborhood of Kfar Souseh told Reuters.

Read more on HuffPost World.

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@ jenanmoussa : Graphic. We saw in a mosque in #Syria these 4 children staring at dead body. Pic by @HaraldDoornbos: http://t.co/lgq8IAmO #warsucks @akhbar

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lebanon Lebanese commandos ride in an armored personnel carrier in preparation to enter the area of clashes between supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime, in the northern port city of Tripoli, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012. The civil war in Syria is affecting its fragile, tiny neighbor Lebanon in countless ways and has already spilled over into sectarian street clashes, kidnappings and general government paralysis.(AP Photo/Hussein Malla)


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Activists say that Syrian security forces swept through two districts in Damascus on Wednesday, killing at least 31 suspected opposition fighters. The Associated Press reports that the army may have been targeting rebel teams that had been using the Nahr Eishah and Kfar Soussa neighborhoods to shell a nearby military airport.

Read more on HuffPost World.

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@ AP : Russia says Western powers are "openly instigating" opposition groups in Syria: http://t.co/Il6rHsxr -SC

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