Syrian rebels claim big win
Group says they’ve captured major city
BEIRUT –The Syrian opposition said Monday that rebel fighters had taken control of much of the north-central city of Raqqah.
The capture of Raqqah would be the first time in the almost-two-year war that rebels had won control of a major city and a provincial capital.
Also Monday, the Iraqi government reported that at least 40 Syrian soldiers who had taken refuge across the eastern border in Iraq had been killed in an ambush. The soldiers were apparently being taken back to Syria when unknown gunmen attacked them. Some Iraqi personnel accompanying the Syrian soldiers were also killed, according to news agency reports.
The incident was the most dramatic illustration so far of how the Syrian conflict had spilled over into Iraq.
The government in Baghdad fears that spillover violence from Syria could undermine the shaky stability of a nation still fragile from the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 that resulted in the ouster of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Many residents of the Iraqi province of Al Anbar, which borders Syria, sympathize with rebels seeking to overthrow President Bashar Assad. Fighters and weapons from Iraq are said to have entered Syria via the porous border.
Opposition reports from Raqqah indicated there were still pockets of government resistance but that insurgents had overrun much of the city, including security installations and the central square.
“Few parts of the city are still under regime control,” said the Syria Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based pro-opposition group.
There was no confirmation from Syrian officials about the fighting in Raqqah, about 300 miles northeast of Damascus.