Iraq: most border crossings under Syrian control

Members of radical Jihadist group Hamza Abdualmuttalib train near Aleppo on 19 July 2012. (Photo: AFP - Bulent Kilic)

Published Thursday, July 19, 2012

Updated 5:35pm: Iraq's government spokesman on Friday said rebels were controlling one major border crossing between the two counties, but three others were now in the hands of the Syrian regime.

Spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh on Friday refuted earlier reports that rebels had seized all four major border crossings between Syria and Iraq.

Al-Dabbagh said rebels were in control of the crossing near the Iraqi town of Qaim, located 320 kilometers west of Baghdad.

But he said the Syrian government was still in control at open border crossings in al-Walid, Rabiya and in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Iraqi army was alleged to have sealed the Qaim crossing, erecting blast walls to prevent clashes.

Another Iraqi security official at Qaim confirmed the post had been taken over by Syrian rebels, while eyewitnesses also reported seeing the flag of the Free Syrian Army raised at the outpost.

Al-Dabbagh's comments were in contrast to Iraq's deputy interior minister Adnan al-Assadi, who said on Thursday the Free Syrian Army had taken all the border points between the two countries.

Syrian rebels also seized control of the Bab Al-Hawa border post with Turkey on Friday after a fierce battle with Syrian troops, an AFP photographer at the scene reported.

The carcasses of burnt-out lorries were scattered across the scene of the battle. Some 150 armed rebel fighters were in control of the post, which lies opposite Turkey's Cilvegozu border crossing in the southern province of Hatay.

The rebel fighters had already sacked the buildings making up the Syrian border post, which were bloodstained and riddled with bullets from the battle.

They had also looted the contents of the Turkish lorries that were caught up in the battle as they waited to cross the border.

Syrian government soldiers had abandoned the site.

The border post lies in the northwest Syrian province of Idlib, the scene of fierce fighting for months now.

Meanwhile, Syrian military forces have routed rebel fighters from the Midan district of Damascus, state television said Friday.

"Our brave army forces have completely cleaned the area of Midan in Damascus of the remaining mercenary terrorists and have reestablished security," the broadcaster said.

Accounts of violence are difficult to verify due to tight media restrictions and a deteriorating security situation for journalists.

Refugees enter Lebanon

Up to 30,000 Syrian refugees may have crossed into Lebanon in the past 48 hours to escape the fighting, the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said on Friday.

"We have reports we are trying to verify that thousands of Syrians overnight and yesterday crossed into Lebanon. So far reports vary between 8,500 and 30,000 people may have crossed in the past 48 hours," said Melissa Fleming, chief spokeswoman of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

"Borders remain open...people continue to flood into Lebanon."

One million Syrians are also believed to be internally displaced within the country as of last week, she told a news briefing in Geneva.

The figure came from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent whose previous estimate was that 500,000 were uprooted.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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