Syria rebels hold one Iraq border crossing: officials

BAGHDAD - Syrian rebels controlled on Saturday one of the three main border crossings between Iraq and Syria despite shelling from President Bashar al-Assad's forces, Iraqi officials told AFP.

The officials also said Syrian refugees had attempted to enter Iraq but Baghdad had ordered its security forces not to allow them to cross into the country from any entry points.

"Only Albu Kamal is under the control of the Free Syrian Army," Deputy Interior Minister Adnan al-Assadi told AFP. He had said on Thursday that all three main crossings were under the control of Syrian rebels.

"Yesterday evening, reinforcements from the regular (Syrian) army arrived to some of the border posts," Assadi said.

It was unclear when control of the other two border posts changed hands.

Albu Kamal is the Syrian name of the crossing known in Iraq as Al-Qaim, which lies 340 kilometres (210 miles) west of Baghdad in Anbar province.

Syrian rebels have held it since Thursday, and despite government forces having heavily shelled it on Friday night, it remained in their control on Saturday.

Local officials said the Rabiyah crossing, located at the north of the 600-kilometre (375-mile) Iraq-Syria frontier, and Al-Waleed in the south, were both in the hands of the regular Syrian army.

"The (Rabiyah) border point is still under the control of the Syrian army, but they are in a critical situation because all the roads leading to it on the Syrian side are under the control of the Free Syrian Army," Nineveh provincial governor Atheel al-Nujaifi told AFP.

Nineveh is the Iraqi province where Rabiyah lies.

Nujaifi said Baghdad had thus far instructed that border crossings should not allow Syrian refugees to enter into the country.

"From this border point (Rabiyah), no refugees have come. But previously, they tried and Iraq refused to receive them," he said.

And at Al-Waleed, 150 Syrian families tried to cross into Iraq but were not allowed.

"Iraqi authorities did not let them in, because there are official orders to not receive any refugees," Iraqi border police Captain Ziad al-Rawi said.

He added: "There are Iraqi families on the border now from the Syrian side, but they do not have Iraqi passports, they lost them because of the violence and looting that happened there."

"Iraqi authorities cannot let them in because there are orders not to let anyone come in without documents."

Iraq has appealed for its citizens to return home from Syria in the face of worsening violence there, but government spokesman Ali Dabbagh said on Friday that moving Iraqis by land in Syria was "not safe".

Dabbagh estimated on Thursday that around 100,000 to 200,000 Iraqis still remained inside Syria. He said around 1,000 Iraqis had returned to the country by plane from Syria, and a further 1,500 were waiting at Damascus airport.

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