Iraqi says it has foiled incursion by Syrian gunmen

Photo: Iraqi says it has foiled incursion by Syrian gunmen  / Iraq

Iraq's Interior Ministry on Tuesday said it had foiled an attempt by unidentified Syrian gunmen to infiltrate its territory, amid growing signs that Syria's civil war was spilling over into its easter neighbour, DPA reported.

"Iraqi border guard forces prevented a group of armed men from crossing into Iraqi territory at the al-Qa'im sector in al-Anbar," the Ministry said.

The statement came a day after 40 Iraqi and Syrian soldiers were killed in an attack on a military convoy in the province of al-Anbar, at a border crossing located about 550 kilometres west of Baghdad. Reports indicated that the Syrian troops targeted had been receiving medical treatment in Iraq.

The Sunni speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Osama al-Nujaifi, called for Iraq's armed forces to remain strictly neutral and confine themselves to guarding the border.

Much of Iraq's Sunni population sympathizes with Syrian rebels, while Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is an ally of Iran, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's main backer.

In Syria's northeastern al-Raqqa province, meanwhile, rebels released a video showing top provincial officials in their custody having seized most of the provincial capital on Monday.

The video, distributed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, showed al-Raqqa governor Hassan Jalili and Suleiman Suleiman, the ruling Baath party's provincial secretary general, seated and surrounded by rebels after their capture.

The pro-opposition Observatory also reported continuing clashes around government buildings and air raids on the city.

Activists reported Scud missiles falling on Talet Rifaat, in the northern province of Aleppo, without indicating casualties.

The United Nations Childrens' Fund (UNICEF) has warned that the conflict is "threatening the education of hundreds of thousands of children."

Children in some hard-hit areas have been without schooling for two years, the UN agency noted.

"The education system in Syria is reeling from the impact of violence," said Youssouf Abdel-Jelil, UNICEF Syria Representative. "Syria once prided itself on the quality of its schools. Now it's seeing the gains it made over the years rapidly reversed."

At least 2,400 schools have been damaged or destroyed and a further 1,500 are being used as shelters for displaced persons, according to the UN agency.

Some 70,000 people have been killed in Syria's two-year conflict, according to UN estimates.

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