Syrian rebels seize control of a border crossing

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AKCAKALE, Turkey — Syrian rebels seized control of a border crossing on the frontier with Turkey on Wednesday, ripping down the Syrian flag as the rebels fighting to oust President Bashar Assad expand their control of the country’s north.

Two bombs also exploded in a Damascus suburb, causing civilian casualties, according to Syria’s state news agency SANA.

The first blast went off near a secondary school in Qudsayya, followed by a second explosion about 200 yards away, said SANA, adding that students were not among those hurt.

Although the bloodshed has prompted international sanctions that have isolated Mr. Assad’s government, the regime still has the support of Russia, Iran and China.

On Wednesday, Mr. Assad met with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi in Damascus, SANA reported.
Mr. Salehi arrived in Syria after a visit to Cairo as part of an Egyptian-sponsored Syria peace initiative that groups Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt — all supporters of the rebels — with Iran.

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi warned Iran on Tuesday that its support for the Syrian regime is hurting chances of better relations between Iran and Egypt.

The promise of greater rapprochement with Egypt is part of a package of incentives and efforts by Mr. Morsi to lure Iran, Syria’s staunchest regional ally, away from Damascus and to find ways to end to the bloodshed.

After meeting with Mr. Assad, the Iranian foreign minister pledged his country’s “unwavering support” to Syria to end the fighting, according to SANA.

Mr. Assad, in turn, said “the success of any initiative is the truthful intention to help Syria,” the Syrian news agency said. It also quoted Mr. Assad as saying that the “current battle targets resistance as a whole not only Syria,” an apparent reference to hard-line groups and countries opposed to Israel’s existence.

The capture of the Tal Abyad border crossing with Turkey was a strategic boost for the rebels, allowing them to ferry supplies into the country as the fighters try to tip the balance in the civil war.

Syria’s rebels have captured several other crossings into Turkey, as well as one on the border with Iraq.
The seizure Wednesday is believed to be the first time they have overrun a frontier post in the northern province of Raqqa, which could help in the fight for control of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, about 100 miles away.

“I am a free Syrian!” Zisha Bargash shouted, throwing his hands in the air as he watched the takeover from the Turkish side. “This is the beginning of the end Assad. Game over.”

Mr. Bargash was among a dozen people — some jubilant, some wounded — who managed to crawl under a barbed-wire barrier between the countries. Some replaced the national flag with a rebel banner, sparking loud cheers and applause.

Turkish officials cordoned off the area on their side of the border, and police prevented a crowd of people from trying to storm the area and cross into Syria.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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