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WAR REPORT
Syria army retakes Iraq border post from jihadists: watchdog
by Staff Writers
Beirut (AFP) March 1, 2013


Wounded Syria soldiers treated in Iraq: spokesman
Mosul, Iraq (AFP) March 2, 2013 - Four wounded Syrian regime soldiers were being treated at a north Iraq hospital on Saturday, during clashes with rebels on the Syrian side of the border, the Iraqi defence ministry's spokesman said.

"Four wounded Syrian soldiers were moved to Rabia Hospital, which is close to the Yaarubiyeh border crossing" from Syria into Iraq's Nineveh province, Mohammed al-Askari told AFP by telephone.

"There are clashes between the two sides inside Syrian territory, but as an Iraqi force this is unrelated to us and we did not interfere," although fire from both regime and rebel forces had hit Iraqi territory, Askari said.

First Lieutenant Abdul Nasser al-Shammari, a member of the border police, said there was heavy fighting on the Syrian side of the border on Saturday, but that Iraqi forces did not open fire.

Second Lieutenant Mohammed al-Shammari, also of the border police, said that Syrian warplanes were bombing on the Syrian side of the frontier.

Baghdad has pointedly avoided calling for the departure of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is locked in a bloody civil war with rebels opposed to his regime, and has instead urged an end to violence by all parties.

But US officials have repeatedly called on the Iraqi government to halt Iranian flights to Syria via Iraqi airspace, which they say are carrying weapons to Assad's forces.

Kurdish rebels may free kidnapped Turks in 10 days: report
Ankara (AFP) March 02, 2013 - The outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) may release Turkish state officials it is holding within 10 days as part of a renewed push for peace with Turkey, the co-chair of the pro-Kurdish party said on Saturday.

"I hope the state officials held by the PKK will reach their families within a week or 10 days," Gulten Kisanak of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil.

Turkey's spy agency resumed negotiations with jailed Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan late last year with an ultimate objective of ending the nearly three-decade violence which has claimed over 40,000 lives, mostly Kurdish.

Ocalan is currently serving a life sentence on an island prison off Istanbul where visitors are seldom allowed and only under the surveillance of Turkish agents.

The Kurdish rebel group, branded a terrorist organisation by Turkey and its Western allies, is expected to declare a ceasefire on March 21, the day of the Kurdish new year and lay down arms by August.

Both sides in the conflict have laid down conditions to show their commitment to long-lasting peace according to media revelations after Ocalan's rare meeting with three Kurdish lawmakers in his island prison last month.

Speaking through three visiting BDP lawmakers, Ocalan said both sides held "prisoners" and that he hoped to see them "reach their families."

His remarks were interpreted in the media as a message to the PKK to release its hostages, including Turkish state officials.

The Kurdish movement is asking for the release of hundreds, possibly thousands, of Kurdish activists and politicians kept in detention on charges of links to the PKK.

Ankara insists "terrorists" need to withdraw from Turkish territory before the peace process can effectively begin, and has promised not to attack rebels wishing to leave the country.

Syrian troops retook on Friday a checkpoint on the northeastern border with Syria, captured a day earlier by Jihadist fighters of Al-Nusra Front, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Friday.

The rebels had overrun the post at Yaarubiyeh in oil-rich Hassakeh province on Thursday after fierce clashes, the Britain-based Observatory said.

"Government forces succeeded in retaking the Yaarubiyeh crossing less than 24 hours after it was taken by fighters from the Al-Nusra Front" and other rebel elements, the Observatory said.

They also "captured half of the city of Yaarubiyeh," it added.

Al-Nusra Front, an increasingly influential factor in Syria's conflict, also took control of the nearby town of Shaddadeh and surrounding villages in mid-February.

The border crossing was controlled by rebel forces last year before the army recaptured it.

Al-Nusra Front first gained notoriety for its suicide bombings in Syria's main cities and has evolved into a strong fighting force leading attacks on battlefronts throughout the country.

Its tactics and suspected affiliation to Al-Qaeda's offshoot in Iraq have landed it on the US list of terrorist organisations.

Rebels of the mainstream Free Syrian Army have told AFP that Al-Nusra fighters, despite their small numbers, have greater economic and logistical support than other insurgents and funding from abroad.

The jihadist group targets strategic points mainly in eastern Syria, including oil and gas facilities, and draws recruits from the local population by paying them a salary.

It aspires to create an Islamic state in Syria, whose regime accuses Saudi Arabia and Qatar of financing Islamist fighters in the two-year-old conflict that the UN says has killed at least 70,000 people.

Netanyahu, King Abdullah II discuss Mideast peace: diplomat
Jerusalem (AFP) March 2, 2013 - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan's King Abdullah II met in Jordan last week and discussed the Middle East peace process, a diplomatic source told AFP on Saturday.

"Last week, Netanyahu travelled to Jordan and met King Abdullah II," the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "In the meeting, they discussed the Middle East peace process."

It was Netanyahu's first trip abroad and first meeting with a foreign head of state since Israel's January 22 general election.

In December, Israeli officials were quoted by media as confirming a report in an Arab daily about a meeting between Netanyahu and the king in Jordan that focused on Syria's chemical weapons arsenal.

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been on hold since September 2010.

Jordan and the peacemaking international Quartet sponsored several rounds of meetings between envoys from each side last year which brought no breakthrough.

The Palestinians demand that Israel stop building settlements in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem before a resumption of negotiations, but Israel rejects any preconditions for talks.

The latest talks between Netanyahu and Abdullah II come ahead of an expected visit by US President Barack Obama, who announced he would be in the region in the spring, with Israeli media putting the date at March 20.

The White House has played down speculation Obama would present a new peace initiative during his visit, stressing instead as the trip's primary agenda Iran's nuclear challenge and the civil war threatening to tear Syria apart.

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