Syrian rebels capture governor of Raqqa province
Activists say governor Hassan Jalili was captured by rebel forces overnight after clashes outside his mansion; he is the highest ranking official to fall into rebel hands; crowds toppled a statue of Assad's father in the city of Raqqa on Monday.
Activists say Syrian rebels have captured the governor of northern Raqqa province as opposition fighters try to overrun the last remaining pockets of loyalist forces in the provincial capital.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says rebels captured Hassan Jalili after clashes overnight near the governor's mansion in Raqqa city.
The Observatory's director, Rami Abdul-Rahman, said Tuesday that Jalili is the highest-ranking official to fall into rebel hands since the Syrian crisis began nearly two years ago.
Syrian rebels have pushed government troops from most of the provincial capital, although the Observatory says clashes are still taking place in several places in the city.
If the opposition were to seize control of all of Raqqa, it would mark the first time an entire city has fallen into rebel hands.
News of the governor's capture comes a day after crowds toppled a statue of President Bashar al-Assad's father also in the city of Raqqa.
On Monday, in a separate incident dozens of Syrian soldiers who had crossed into Iraq for refuge were ambushed with bombs, gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades in an attack that killed 48 of them and heightened concerns that the country could be drawn into Syria's civil war.
The fact that the soldiers were on Iraqi soil at all raised questions about Baghdad's apparent willingness to quietly aid the embattled regime of Syria's Assad.
The well-coordinated attack, which Iraqi officials blamed on al-Qaida's Iraq arm, also suggests possible coordination between the militant group and its ideological allies in Syria who rank among the rebels' most potent fighters.
Ali al-Moussawi, a spokesman for Iraq's prime minister said the soldiers had been allowed into Iraq only on humanitarian grounds and insisted that Baghdad was not picking sides in the Syrian conflict.