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Iraqi officials said about 1,000 nationals had left in eight flights from Damascus over the last two days to escape the escalating civil war. An estimated 5,000 more has poured through a land crossing by Saturday, despite the rebel takeover of a major Syria border post farther north.

Capt. Saad al-Khafaji of the state-owned Iraqi Airways said Iraqi authorities sent four airplanes to Damascus airport Saturday to evacuate Iraqis stranded in the Syrian capital.

“The planes are waiting for Iraqi passengers, but few are showing up at Damascus airport,” he said, adding it was due to difficulties in reaching the airport because of the violence.

Also Saturday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he is sending U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous to Syria to assess the situation.

The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Friday renewing the 300-strong U.N. observer force in Syria for 30 days. The resolution was a lifeline for the unarmed observers who were sent to Syria three months ago to monitor a cease-fire that never happened.

Ban urged all sides to stop the violence, but he singled out the Syrian government, saying it must “stop the killing and the use of heavy weapons against the population centers.”


Associated Press writers Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report from Baghdad.