Syrian rebels seized control of a third border crossing with Turkey on Wednesday after battling with forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, consolidating their grip on a border zone that until now had remained under Assad’s control.
On the diplomatic front, Iranian’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, whose country is Assad’s main Middle East ally, arrived in Damascus to consult with the Syrian leader about proposals by regional powers to resolve the 17-month Syrian crisis.
Salehi’s talks followed a meeting in Cairo on Monday of the “Contact Group”, grouping Iran, Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Salehi said before leaving Cairo that the four states had a “great role” to play and could table a proposal that might produce a satisfactory result but that it needed more talks.
In the Syrian capital Damascus, rebels said they had started to retreat from southern districts early on Wednesday after weeks of heavy bombardment and government air strikes.
The neighborhoods of Hajar Al-Aswad, Al-Asali and Al-Qadam lie on the southern edge of what is considered Damascus proper and a withdrawal will be seen as a large setback after rebel gains in the capital three months ago.
The revolt, which began as peaceful street protests cracked down on by Assad’s military, has escalated into a civil war in which more than 27,000 people have died. Daily death tolls now approach 200 and the last month was the bloodiest yet.
London-based Amnesty International said in a report on Wednesday that civilians, including many children, are the main victims of indiscriminate Syrian army bombing and shelling of areas abandoned to opposition forces.
The international human rights group said attacks near hospitals and on bread queues appeared to be deliberately targeted at civilians, and thus constituted war crimes.