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Syria-Iraq Border Crossing Under Rebel Control, Iraqi Army General Says

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SYRIA IRAQ BORDER CROSSING
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 — Rebels attacked Syrian forces Thursday on two spots along the nation's porous border with Iraq, killing 21 soldiers and seizing control of one of the four major border posts, a senior Iraqi army official said.

The assaults against Syria's government unfolded throughout the day, putting the Iraqi army on high alert to prevent any violence from spilling across the border.

"We have security concerns because the border crossing now is out of the Syria government's control, and nobody can anticipate what will happen," said Iraqi Army Brig. General Qassim al-Dulaimi.

Al-Duliami said about a half-dozen rebels stormed the Syrian border crossing near the Iraqi town of Qaim on Thursday morning. He said the rebels forced the border guards from their posts but did not cross into Iraq.

Qaim is located about 320 kilometers (200 miles) west of Baghdad. Mohammed Fathi, spokesman for the governor of Iraq's western Anbar province that includes Qaim, said the border crossing had already been closed to traffic because of the civil war.

Hours later, in the remote Sinjar mountain range, al-Dulaimi said rebels attacked a Syrian army outpost near the Iraqi border, killed 20 soldiers and their commander. The rebels then seized control of the outpost, al-Duliami said.

However, local Iraqi officials said two other major border crossings remained in control of the Syrian regime. Fathi said the largest port at al-Walid, which is also located near the Jordanian border and accounts or an estimated 90 percent of traffic between Iraq and Syria – remained in the regime's hands.

In a telephone interview shortly after midnight Friday, Fathi, who said he was speaking from al-Walid, described seeing about 200 Iraqi refugees who had just returned from Syria. He said the situation there was normal.

"We are providing the returnees with water, bread and some food. We are expecting more to come. We will do our best to ensure that they reach their homes safely."

Iraqi officials said two northern border crossings – in Ninevah province near Rabiya and in the self-ruling Kurdish region – were also still in Syrian government control.

The border between Iraq and Syria is 605 kilometers (363-miles) long.

Earlier this week, Iraq's government urged all its citizens living in Syria to return home immediately to escape the violence of the country's escalating civil war. The government 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, citing a rise in killings and assaults on his Iraqis in Syria.

The U.N. estimated there were 1 million Iraq refugees in Syria and 3,000 more seeking asylum as of January, the month from which the latest figures are available.

Thousands of Iraqis fled to Syria to escape widespread sectarian fighting during the worst period of violence in their homeland between 2005 and 2007.

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Associated Press Writers Sameer N. Yacoub and Lara Jakes 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.

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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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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.

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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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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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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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