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FSA seizes checkpoint between Aleppo, Turkey as France to seek U.N. meeting

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Syrian rebels seized a strategic checkpoint northwest of Aleppo on Monday after a 10-hour battle, securing them free movement between the northern city and Turkey, an AFP journalist said, as France said it will ask for an urgent U.N. Security Council meeting on Syria.

“The Anadan checkpoint, five kilometers northwest of Aleppo, was taken this morning at 5:00 am (0200 GMT) after 10 hours of fighting,” said General Ferzat Abdul Nasser, a rebel officer who deserted the Syrian army a month ago.

By securing this position, the rebels now control a direct route between the Turkish border and the city of Aleppo, where the Syrian army launched an offensive Saturday to dislodge the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), composed of deserters and armed civilians.

An AFP journalist on the ground said that the rebels captured seven tanks and armoured vehicles, and destroyed an eighth vehicle.

Six soldiers were killed and 25 were taken as prisoners, General Ferzat told AFP by phone, adding that four of his own men died in the fighting.

The Syrian government announced late Sunday it had “purged” the district of Salahhedine and inflicted “great losses” upon the rebels -- a claim which opposition activists dispute.

“They were just in part of Salaheddine, not in the center,” said Rami Abdul Rahman, the director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Activists on the ground in Aleppo confirmed that the fighting was ongoing and no government forces were inside the neighborhood of Salaheddine, one of the first to revolt against the government in this city of 3 million.

“They have tanks in nearby Hamdaniya and there is fighting, and there have been random bombardments of Salaheddine,” said Mohammed Saeed, who is based in the embattled city.

The government has massed forces outside Aleppo and began an assault over the weekend to retake the commercial hub. The international community has expressed fears over a possible massacre of civilians if the fighting escalates.

Meanwhile, France will ask for an urgent U.N. Security Council ministerial meeting on Syria to try to end the diplomatic deadlock and prevent further bloodshed, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Monday.

President Bashar al-Assad’s forces attacked rebel fighters in the city of Aleppo at the weekend, drawing condemnation from Western powers who say the authorities in Syria have lost all legitimacy.

Branding Assad an “executioner,” Fabius said the country was headed for a massacre, and urged the United Nations to do everything it can to stop the crisis.

“We’re going to ask for a meeting of the Security Council, probably at ministerial level, before the end of this week,” he told RTL radio.

Western powers have thus far been unsuccessful in ending an impasse at the U.N. over the Syrian crisis, with Russia and China trying blocking efforts to put more pressure on Assad.

France is due to take over the presidency of the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday, and President Francois Hollande has said he will try to convince Russia and China to support further sanctions.