Friday, July 20, 2012

Violence Kills 200 in Syria as Rebels Take 'All Iraq Border Points', Turkey Border Crossing

Syrian rebels took control of all border crossings between Iraq and Syria on Thursday, Baghdad's deputy interior minister told Agence France Presse, as a rights group said rebels also seized a crossing on the border with Turkey.

"All the border points between Iraq and Syria are under the control of the Free Syrian Army," Adnan al-Assadi told AFP by telephone.

"The border points and all the outposts are under the control of the Free Syrian Army.

"The Syrian army are focusing on Damascus."

Assadi also said there was fighting underway between the Syrian army and rebels across the border from the northern Iraqi region of Sinjar.

The top official said Iraqi border guards had witnessed the Free Syrian Army take control of a border outpost, detain a Syrian army lieutenant colonel, and then cut off his arms and legs.

"Then they executed 22 Syrian soldiers in front of the eyes of Iraqi soldiers."

Assadi added: "If this situation continues, we are going to close the entire border with Syria."

Earlier, an Iraqi border police lieutenant colonel told AFP that clashes began at noon at the al-Bukamal crossing in Anbar province.

"And then in the evening, we saw the Syrian flag being brought down and the flag of the Free Syrian Army replaced it," he told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"We saw people wearing dishdashas (traditional Arab robes) and holding guns and they were walking inside the border post. We closed the border and we sent more patrols and more checkpoints along all the border with Syria."

Government spokesman Ali Dabbagh meanwhile told Iraqiya state television that four planeloads of Iraqis had been flown from Syria back to Iraq on Thursday.

Also on Thursday, officials in western Anbar province, which borders Syria, said thousands of Iraqi families crossed from Syria back into their home country after Baghdad appealed for them to return to avoid escalating violence in Iraq's western neighbor.

Anbar provincial council chief Saadun Obeid Shaalan said provincial authorities had provided Iraqis crossing the border with "humanitarian aid and 60 buses have entered Iraq, carrying Iraqis emigrating from Syria."

Earlier on Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the FSA seized control of a crossing on the border with neighboring Turkey.

"Rebel fighters seized control of the Bab al-Hawa crossing (in the northwestern province of Idlib) on the border with Turkey," the Britain-based rights group said, adding that the rebels went on to remove the photograph of President Bashar Assad that was displayed at the frontier post.

Amateur video posted on YouTube showed rebels firing into the air and describing the seizure as "the liberation of Bab al-Hawa."

Another video, purportedly filmed at the border post, shows two men burning a large portrait of Assad's father and his predecessor Hafez, along with the Baath party flag.

Anti-regime sentiment is strong in Idlib, and according to activists large parts of this border province have long been under rebel control.

The rebel offensive on Syria's eastern border came as the army focused its resources on Damascus, resorting to tank fire in the capital for the first time in its efforts to root out rebel fighters a day after a bomb blast killed three of Assad's top aides.

The upsurge in fighting, which claimed some 200 lives on Thursday alone according to the Observatory's figures, sent a new exodus of refugees fleeing across Syria's borders.

Nearly 19,000 Syrians pouring into Lebanon, a security official told AFP in Beirut, while Iraqi officials said thousands of Iraqi refugee families had fled home from Syria.

The Syrian army gave residents 48 hours to leave areas of the capital, where clashes are taking place between security forces and rebels pushing their "Damascus Volcano" offensive.

"These extremely violent clashes should continue in the next 48 hours to cleanse Damascus of terrorists by the time Ramadan begins" on Friday, a security source told AFP, referring to the Muslim fasting month.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that in the western district of Mazzeh alone, hundreds of people were on the move, "fearing a large-scale operation by regime troops."

"The army stormed the Qaboon district with a large number of tanks," the Observatory's Rami Abdel Rahman added.



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