Putin warns against action on Syria outside U.N.; FSA claims control of Iraq border crossing


Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Western powers on Friday not to take unilateral action against the Syrian government outside the U.N. Security Council, as Syrian rebels claimed control of an Iraq-Syria border point.

The Kremlin said Putin delivered the comments at a closed meeting of Russia’s powerful Security Council that groups all the top ministers and decides strategy on the most sensitive foreign and domestic affairs.

“In the opinion of the Russian president, any attempts to act outside the U.N. Security Council will be ineffective and only undermine the authority of this international organization,” news agencies quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying at the meeting.

The spokesman said Putin also rejected Western charges that Russia was inciting even more violence in Syria by blocking with China possible sanctions against its Middle East ally for the third time on Thursday.

“Members of the Russian Security Council underscored the complete inappropriateness and unacceptability of attempts to tie the tensions in Syria to the position taken by the Russian Federation,” Peskov said.

His comments were issued only moments after the Security Council unanimously approved a resolution extending a U.N. monitors mission in Syria for another 30 days.

Russia welcomed the extension as a sign of compromise because it excluded an earlier call on the government of its main Middle East ally to pull out heavy weapons out of towns and other areas controlled by the armed opposition.

The mission’s mandate may also be extended again should the United Nations report a de-escalation in violence and an end to the regime’s use of heavy weapons such as tanks in the next month.

But nations such as the United States have called this the final extension of the missions -- originally in place to oversee the implementation of a peace plan that never went into effect -- and vowed to look for new solutions to the 16-month crisis.

Meanwhile, Syrian rebels claimed they were still in control of an Iraq-Syria border point they had captured the previous day, as Iraqi forces upped security and shut down the crossing.

The Albu Kamal border point, one of three between the two countries that a senior Iraqi official said were in the hands of the rebel Free Syrian Army, was the site of heavy clashes on Thursday.

By Friday, the Iraqi side of the crossing, known in Iraq as al-Qaim, was flooded with security personnel, with several Iraqi army and police units deployed to establish checkpoints and carry out patrols, AFP journalists reported.

Those who wished to cross the border at al-Qaim, 340 kilometers (210 miles) west of Baghdad, were barred from doing so. Earlier, Iraqi security officials said they had closed down the crossing entirely.

A Syrian border watchtower appeared to be empty and the crossing buildings also appeared to be deserted, an AFP photographer said. He reported that a poster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had the head torn off, and that no flags were raised above the border point.

An FSA officer who spoke to AFP by telephone from Albu Kamal said the rebels were in control of the crossing.

“We control the border of Albu Kamal after a battle,” FSA First Lieutenant Khalid Abu Ziad said. “We attacked the soldiers with light weapons and some of them fled, some of them joined us.”

“We are not expecting to be under attack, but there is bombardment against the city (of Albu Kamal). Today 15 people were killed. We seized guns and munitions and some rockets.”

A medic on the Syrian side of the crossing told AFP by phone that the situation in Albu Kamal was poor as pharmacies and hospitals had not received any medical supplies in the past month.

“There is a shortage of everything -- electricity, water, medicine,” said 60-year-old Abu Abdullah, another Albu Kamal resident. “We are surrounded by two fires -- the fire of the state and the fire of the FSA.”

Residents of al-Qaim are part of tribes that have long straddled the 600-kilometre (375-mile) border between Iraq and Syria.

“We have been hearing continuous clashes for two days from the Syrian side of the border,” Abu Yusuf, an Iraqi civil servant, told AFP in al-Qaim.

The 26-year-old continued: “Our relatives on the Syrian side called us and said, ‘We helped you during your war with America, is it hard for you to help us today?’”

He was referring to the opposition of many Sunni towns, such as al-Qaim, to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the nine years of American military presence in the country that followed.

Abu Yusuf said his Syrian relatives had asked for “bags of blood” from al-Qaim, but “we cannot because the army are preventing us, because they are heavily deployed, at a level we have never seen before.”

Iraq’s deputy interior minister Adnan al-Assadi told AFP on Thursday that Syrian rebels had taken control of all three border crossings between Iraq and Syria, and said Iraqi authorities were considering closing off the entire border to maintain security.

Assadi said Iraqi border guards had witnessed the Free Syrian Army take control of a border outpost, detain a Syrian army lieutenant colonel, and then cut off his arms and legs.

“Then they executed 22 Syrian soldiers in front of the eyes of Iraqi soldiers.”

The account of the killings could not be independently verified.

On Friday, Iraqiya state TV reported that eight planes full of Iraqis had made the trip between Damascus and Baghdad, after the Iraqi government called on its citizens to return home in the face of escalating violence in Syria.