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Syria Crisis: Iraq Urges Citizens To Flee Syria

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SYRIA CRISIS IRAQ
In this citizen journalism image taken on Friday, July 13, 2012 and provided by Edlib News Network ENN, Free Syrian Army soldiers run for cover in Idlib province, northern Syria. (AP Photo/Edlib News Network ENN) | AP

BAGHDAD — Iraq's government called Tuesday for all its citizens living in Syria to return home immediately to escape the escalating civil war after the recent killing of two Iraqi journalists covering the conflict.

Thousands of Iraqis fled to Syria to escape widespread sectarian fighting during the worst of violence in their homeland between 2005 and 2007. Now, the traffic is heading the other way, with Iraqis and Syrian refugees heading east, and out of the conflict that the International Red Cross just days ago deemed a civil war.

The U.N. estimated there were 1 million Iraqi refugees in Syria and 3,000 more seeking asylum as of January, the latest figures available. But Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh put the number much lower, at about 200,000.

Al-Dabbagh said Baghdad called on the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and the opposition forces seeking to overthrow him to resist harming Iraqis who may be caught in the crossfire.

"They are not part of the conflict going on in Syria now," al-Dabbagh said in a statement. He cited a "rise in killings and assaults on Iraqis residing in Syria" and said 12 Iraqis have been killed so far this month alone.

Baghdad's urging came as Syrian government forces, backed by helicopter gunships, battled rebels in heavy clashes in Damascus over the past three days. The uprising against Assad broke out in March last year, and activists say more than 17,000 people have been killed.

The Iraqi government will pay for the costs of transporting Iraqis back from Syria, al-Dabbagh said.

Late Monday, the bodies of two Iraqi journalists killed in Syria were handed over to authorities at the al-Waleed border crossing, according to Iraqi Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Dulaimi.

Al-Dulaimi, an army commander in Iraq's western Anbar province which borders Syria, said the two journalists died in the Damascus suburb of Jaramana but it was still unclear when or how. There has been no fighting there over the past few days. He said cards from the Iraqi journalists' syndicate were found in their pockets, identifying them as Ali Juburi and Falah Taha.

The Baghdad-based independent Journalists' Freedom Observatory said Juburi was an editor of a weekly newspaper while Taha was a freelance reporter. JFO is warning Iraqi reporters not to travel to Syria.

___

Associated Press Writers Bushra Juhi and Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report.

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lebanon Hussein Ali Omar, 60, one of 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims that Syrian rebels have been holding for three months in Syria, hugs his mother, right, upon arrival at his house in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, 2012. Syrian rebels freed Omar on Saturday in a move aimed at easing cross-border tensions after a wave of abductions of Syrian citizens in Lebanon. The Shiite pilgrims were abducted May 22 after crossing into Syria from Turkey on their way to Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)


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France24 correspondents Matthieu Mabin and Sofia Amara report from the front lines of a rebel offensive against the Syrian army in Damascus.

Watch the exclusive report in the video below.

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syria This image made from video and released by Shaam News Network and accessed Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012, purports to show the funeral of children in Daraya, near Damascus, Syria. Syrian troops backed by tanks and helicopters broke into a Damascus suburb on Thursday following two days of shelling and intense clashes as part of a widening offensive by President Bashar Assad's forces to seize control of parts of the capital and surrounding areas from rebel fighters, activists said. At least 15 people were killed in the offensive on Daraya, only a few miles (kilometers) southwest of Damascus. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network SNN via AP video)


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Clashes between Assad supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime killed two people in Lebanon on Friday, the Associated Press reports. 17 people were injured.

The AP gives more context:

Syria was in virtual control of its smaller neighbor for many years, posting tens of thousands of troops in Lebanon, before withdrawing under pressure in 2005. Even without soldiers on the ground, Syria remains influential, and its civil war has stirred longstanding tensions that have lain under Lebanon's surface.

Read more on HuffPost World.

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lebanon A Sunni gunman fires a gun during clashes that erupted between pro and anti-Syrian regime gunmen in the northern port city of Tripoli, Lebanon, Friday, Aug. 24, 2012. The latest round of fighting first erupted on Monday in northern Lebanon and at least 15 have been killed in Tripoli this week and more than 100 have been wounded in fighting that is a spillover from Syria's civil war. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)


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@ KenRoth : UN reports 200,000 #Syria refugees, 30,000 in past week alone. Many more internally displaced not counted. http://t.co/BaM6u59j

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syria Syrian boy Musataf Alhafiz, 11, who fled his home with his family due to fighting between the Syrian army and the rebels, carries his brother Saif, 9 months, while he and others take refuge at the Bab Al-Salameh border crossing, in hopes of entering one of the refugee camps in Turkey, near the Syrian town of Azaz, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012. Thousands of Syrians who have been displaced by the country's civil war are struggling to find safe shelter while shelling and airstrikes by government forces continue. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)


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Helicopter gunships shelled Damascus on Wednesday as Syrian security forces intensified their assault on the capital. Activists report that at least 47 people were killed.

"The whole of Damascus is shaking with the sound of shelling," a woman in the neighborhood of Kfar Souseh told Reuters.

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@ jenanmoussa : Graphic. We saw in a mosque in #Syria these 4 children staring at dead body. Pic by @HaraldDoornbos: http://t.co/lgq8IAmO #warsucks @akhbar

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lebanon Lebanese commandos ride in an armored personnel carrier in preparation to enter the area of clashes between supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime, in the northern port city of Tripoli, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012. The civil war in Syria is affecting its fragile, tiny neighbor Lebanon in countless ways and has already spilled over into sectarian street clashes, kidnappings and general government paralysis.(AP Photo/Hussein Malla)


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Activists say that Syrian security forces swept through two districts in Damascus on Wednesday, killing at least 31 suspected opposition fighters. The Associated Press reports that the army may have been targeting rebel teams that had been using the Nahr Eishah and Kfar Soussa neighborhoods to shell a nearby military airport.

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@ AP : Russia says Western powers are "openly instigating" opposition groups in Syria: http://t.co/Il6rHsxr -SC

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