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Syria Live Coverage: Fighting on the Iraq Border

Extract from President Assad's interview with Sunday Times of London (see 0800 GMT)

See also Palestine (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Minister of Finance Tries to Resign Amid Financial Crisis
Saturday's Syria Live Coverage: The Fighting Around Aleppo

2205 GMT: Casualties. Footage, with graphic images of the wounded, has been posted of the aftermath of regime shelling of the Damascus suburb of Douma.

1840 GMT: Elections in Insurgent-Held Areas. A vote has been held to elect 29 council members for insurgent-held areas in Aleppo Province.

"For the first time, Aleppo will have a freely elected provincial council. We hope the whole of Syria will have a free election soon," candidate Yehia Naanaa from Hreitan said.

The vote is being held in the Turkish town of Gaziantep because of security problems in the province.

"The provincial council's main goal will be to run administrative affairs for civilians, and also to ensure infrastructure, irrigation and public institutions are protected, so that political life can restart after Assad's fall," Naanaa said.

1700 GMT: Iraqi Death. An Iraqi soldier has been killed and three people, including a soldier, wounded inside north Iraq from fire exchanged between regime forces and insurgents in Syria.

Ministry of Defense spokesman Mohammed al-Askari said the casualties were caused Saturday by fighting at the Yaarubiyeh border crossing, captured by opposition fighters.

"The Iraqi forces that were hit by the fire were about 600 meters away from the crossing" into Iraq's Nineveh Province, Askari said.

1609 GMT: In the Skies. Jordan's national carrier Royal Jordanian has stopped flying over Syrian airspace for security reasons.

"This move reflects the airline's commitment to the safety of passengers and security of operations, even though this procedure involves additional costs to the company," Amer Hadidi, President and CEO of Royal Jordanian said.

The airline stopped its regular flights to Damascus last year.

1439 GMT: The President's Interview. State news agency SANA has posted the transcript of President Assad's interview with The Sunday Times.

The read is not for the faint of heart or faint of sight, however --- the President's words are given in a single, long paragraph.

1431 GMT: Opposition. Moaz al-Khatib, the leader of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, has visited insurgent-held areas in northern Syria on Sunday, an aide said.

The aide said al-Khatib, who fled Syria last year after being imprisoned several times, entered the country from Turkey and toured the towns of Jarablus and Minbij.

Footage from the visit to Minbij:

1424 GMT: On the Iraqi Border. Iraq has shut a border crossing after insurgents claimed the other side after a three-day battle with Syrian forces.

The Iraqi army fired warning shots into the air late Friday as the insurgents took the post and the town of Yaarabiya.

"Iraqi authorities were ordered to shut off Rabia border crossing until further notice because of the Syrian government's lack of control over the other side of the post," police said.

1057 GMT: Foreign Weapons to Insurgents? British Foreign Secretary William Hague has walked a cautious line this morning on BBC TV about public supply of weapons to the insurgency.

Hague followed the lead of US Secretary of State John Kerry, who announced $60 million in American "non-lethal" aid on Thursday, with "more equipment to try to help save lives in Syria":

We will be doing more and we have to steadily do more if there is no diplomatic breakthrough. We will continue to give enormous amounts to relieve humanitarian distress but we have to do more to assist the opposition on the ground.

However, he continued:

I will not be announcing this week arms to the Syria opposition....

I don’t rule out anything for the future. If this is going to go on for months, or years, and more tens of thousands of people are going to die, and countries like Iraq and Lebanon and Jordan are going to be destabilised, it is not something we can ignore.

If ever we get into that situation [of supplying weapons to the opposition] the risks of arms falling into the wrong hands is one of the great constraints. And it is one of the reasons we don’t do it now. But these things are a balance of risk. You can reach consensus eventually when humanitarian need is so great and the loss of life is so great that you have to do something new to save lives. That’s why I don’t rule it out in the future.

1047 GMT: Homs. Shelling of the al-Khalidiya section of Homs this morning:

1040 GMT: A Brigade to Protect a Shrine. An unnamed source and videos are claiming that Shi'ite fighters from Iraq and Lebanon are joining Syrian gunmen to defend a shrine south of Damascus from insurgents.

The Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas Brigade was rpeortedly formed several months ago and fights mainly around the shrine of Sayyida Zeinab.

The daughter of Shia Islam's Imam Ali is buried in the gold-domed mausoleum.

The source said the fighters "are there for one purpose and that is to defend the shrine". He said Iraqi members were motivated partly by the desire to prevent a repeat of sectarian violence that followed the 2006 attack on the Shi'ite Imam al-Askari Mosque.

0950 GMT: Homs. Footage of the devastation of a neighbourhood in Syria's third city:

0945 GMT: Insurgents Claim Police Academy. Opposition fighters have put out a series of videos claiming the capture of the police academy, also used as a military post, near Aleppo --- two of the clips:

0800 GMT: Assad Interview. In an interview with The Sunday Times of London, President Assad has accused foreign governments of bullying and naivete in their approach to the conflict.

Asked what he would say to new US Secretary of State John Kerry, Assad said defiantly that he would not discuss internal matters with any "foreigner" --- "Only Syrian people can tell the President, 'Stay or leave, come or go'" --- and advised Kerry to tell Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that support of "terrorists" is unacceptable.

Assad criticised Britain's historic "unconstructive" role in the region and said the position on Syria of the "naive, confused, unrealistic" Government was highlighting this.

Assad declared, "We do not expect an arsonist to be a firefighter."

The President indicated that Damascus would strike back at Israel over West Jerusalem's aerial attacks last month on a scientific research centre and a military convoy inside Syria:

We [have always] retaliated in our own way, and only the Israelis know what we mean. Retaliation does not mean missile for missile or bullet for bullet. Our own way does not have to be announced.

0700 GMT: The Iraq Border. Tension and rumours escalated on Saturday around clashes between insurgents and regime troops on the Iraqi border.

In the last three days, the forces have been vying over the town of Yaarabiya and a shared border crosssing with Iraq. Activists said the insurgents claimed control of Yaarabiya and re-took the border crossing early Saturday.

Iraqi troops, concerned over spill-over into their territory, fired warning shots. That led to reports in the press, notably Al Arabiya, that Baghdad's military was intervening on the side of the Syrian troops. Iraqi military sources denied the claim of insurgents that they had fired at opposition fighters.

In another provocative report, the mayor of a town in Iraq's Nineveh Province told Al Jazeera that Syrian warplanes, using Iraqi airspace, had shelled the border crossing.

Meanwhile on Saturday, clashes continued in Aleppo Province, with each side claiming significant victories. The regime said its troops had taken villages on the Hama-to-Aleppo road, reopening a vital supply route to Aleppo city. Insurgents and activists asserted that opposition fighters, using armoured vehicles, had moved into the police academy near Aleppo which also serves as a military base.

The Local Coordination Committees said 133 people were killed yesterday, including 36 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its suburbs, 30 in Aleppo Province, and 19 in Homs Province.

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