Syrian rebels seize another Turkish border

Syrian rebels managed the seizure of another Turkish border in their revolt against Bashar al-Assad.

Syrian rebels. Picture: AFP.

AKCAKALE - Syrian rebels seized another border crossing with Turkey on Wednesday, consolidating their grip on a frontier through which they ferry arms for battles with President Bashar al-Assad's troops around the northern city of Aleppo.

Turkey, Assad's ally turned enemy, confirmed the fall of the Tel Abyad border post, the third of seven main crossings along the Turkish-Syrian frontier to come under rebel control - though Syrian state media spoke only of bloody fighting in the area.

In a war of slowly shifting frontlines, rebels in Damascus said they were pulling back from southern parts of the capital after weeks of bombardment of a kind condemned as a war crime by Amnesty International, which accused Assad's forces on Wednesday of targeting areas near clinics and bakeries to kill civilians.

A general who defected to the rebel side was also quoted as saying Syrian commanders had discussed using chemical weapons - a move President Barack Obama has said could prompt US action.

In the latest outside intervention to try to end 18 months of conflict, the foreign minister of Iran, Assad's key regional sponsor, met the president in Damascus to discuss proposals from a four-power grouping of Iran, Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

There was little sign of diplomatic movement, however, on a crisis in which Assad can count on Iran, to whose Shi'ite Muslim faith Assad's Alawite minority affiliates itself, as well as a sympathetic Russia; against him, the rebels are being armed by Sunni Muslim states like Saudi Arabia and receive other supplies and diplomatic support from the Western powers and Turkey.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, quoted by Syrian state television, assured the president of "unlimited support" in efforts to "restore peace and stability" after reforms he had made. Assad was quoted as saying he would welcome an "equitable solution that meets the interests of the Syria people".

There was no clear reference to what the four regional powers - whose interests rarely coincide - may be suggesting. Iran and Russia have resisted demands by the rebels and their allies that Assad step aside first to make way for compromise.

Syria's opposition scoff at the idea of Iran playing a role in peacemaking given its support for Assad. An intelligence report by a Western agency and seen by Reuters said Iran has used Iraqi airspace to fly in weapons and military personnel to Syria - something the Iraqi government denied, but which Baghdad's US sponsors believe to be true.

Activists who collate data from across Syria said 170 people, mostly civilians, had been killed on Tuesday, a typical daily figure of late. Protests that began in March last year and were met with force have become a civil war in which more than 27,000 have died so far. The last month was the bloodiest yet.

Amnesty International said in a report that civilians, including children, are the main victims of army bombing and shelling of areas taken by the opposition. Assad's forces use "weapons which cannot be aimed at specific targets, knowing that the victims of such indiscriminate attacks are almost always civilians", said Donatella Rovera of Amnesty.

A UN panel has accused rebels, too, of abuses, although on a lesser scale than those committed by Assad's supporters.