* Rebels capture Tel Abyad crossing, tear down flag
* Fighters in Damascus withdraw from southern suburbs
* Amnesty says civilians main victim of government fire
* Western spies say Iran flies in weapons over Iraq
By Kadir Celikcan
AKCAKALE, Turkey, Sept 19 Syrian rebels seized
another border crossing with Turkey on Wednesday, consolidating
their grip on a frontier through which they ferry arms for
battles with President Bashar al-Assad's troops around the
northern city of Aleppo.
Turkey, Assad's ally turned enemy, confirmed the fall of the
Tel Abyad border post, the third of seven main crossings along
the Turkish-Syrian frontier to come under rebel control - though
Syrian state media spoke only of bloody fighting in the area.
In a war of slowly shifting frontlines, rebels in Damascus
said they were pulling back from southern parts of the capital
after weeks of bombardment of a kind condemned as a war crime by
Amnesty International, which accused Assad's forces on Wednesday
of targeting areas near clinics and bakeries to kill civilians.
A general who defected to the rebel side was also quoted as
saying Syrian commanders had discussed using chemical weapons -
a move President Barack Obama has said could prompt U.S. action.
In the latest outside intervention to try to end 18 months
of conflict, the foreign minister of Iran, Assad's key regional
sponsor, met the president in Damascus to discuss proposals from
a four-power grouping of Iran, Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
There was little sign of diplomatic movement, however, on a
crisis in which Assad can count on Iran, to whose Shi'ite Muslim
faith Assad's Alawite minority affiliates itself, as well as a
sympathetic Russia; against him, the rebels are being armed by
Sunni Muslim states like Saudi Arabia and receive other supplies
and diplomatic support from the Western powers and Turkey.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, quoted by Syrian
state television, assured the president of "unlimited support"
in efforts to "restore peace and stability" after reforms he had
made. Assad was quoted as saying he would welcome an "equitable
solution that meets the interests of the Syria people".
There was no clear reference to what the four regional
powers - whose interests rarely coincide - may be suggesting.
Iran and Russia have resisted demands by the rebels and their
allies that Assad step aside first to make way for compromise.
Syria's opposition scoff at the idea of Iran playing a role
in peacemaking given its support for Assad. An intelligence
report by a Western agency and seen by Reuters said Iran has
used Iraqi airspace to fly in weapons and military personnel to
Syria - something the Iraqi government denied, but which
Baghdad's U.S. sponsors believe to be true.
Activists who collate data from across Syria said 170
people, mostly civilians, had been killed on Tuesday, a typical
daily figure of late. Protests that began in March last year and
were met with force have become a civil war in which more than
27,000 have died so far. The last month was the bloodiest yet.
Amnesty International said in a report that civilians,
including children, are the main victims of army bombing and
shelling of areas taken by the opposition. Assad's forces use
"weapons which cannot be aimed at specific targets, knowing that
the victims of such indiscriminate attacks are almost always
civilians", said Donatella Rovera of Amnesty.
A U.N. panel has accused rebels, too, of abuses, although on
a lesser scale than those committed by Assad's supporters.
At the Tel Abyad border crossing, near the Turkish town of
Akcakale, 200 km (130 miles) northeast of Aleppo, rebels could
be seen in television footage tearing down a Syrian flag.
"I can confirm that the border post has fallen. It is under
the complete control of the rebels," a Turkish official said.
Two Turkish civilians were wounded by stray bullets.
The fighting, which started on Tuesday evening, appeared to
be the first move on by insurgents on the border zone in
al-Raqqa province, most of which has remained solidly pro-Assad.
State-run Syria TV said: "Our heroic armed forces are
chasing down terrorist remnants in the Tel Abyad region, killed
a large number of them and destroyed their weapons."
Far to the south around Damascus, a rebel withdrawal from
the neighbourhoods of Hajar al-Aswad, al-Asali and al-Qadam is a
setback for them after gains in the capital in recent months,
though fighters said the move was tactical and short-term.
"They're withdrawing to another area because we just don't
have enough weapons to keep up our hit-and-run operations," said
Moaz, a rebel fighter in Damascus, who was wounded last week.
"The wounded need treatment and the fighters need some rest.
"The regime will move into one area and comb it for rebels,
while we move to another. There are a lot of places we can go,
and the fighters will be back to fight again soon."
Syrian state television accused "terrorists" of taking four
electricity workers hostage before troops freed them; activists
posted an Internet video showing what they said were bodies of
men arrested and executed by government forces in the Damascus
suburb of Jobar. It showed 11 bodies laid out in a mosque.
In Hama province, activists said helicopters dropped bombs
on the village of al-Haweeja on Wednesday, killing at least
eight. Video showed dust-covered civilians retrieving the
crumpled bodies of the dead - at least one of them the blood-
smeared corpse of a child. Screaming residents dug through piles
of ruined buildings, looking for more dead and wounded.
The civilian death toll has increased pressure on Western
powers to act, although the complexity and scale of the conflict
are very different from that in Libya, where a limited bombing
campaign allowed rebels to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi.
The head of the main opposition bloc, the Syrian National
Council urged Arab and Western powers to pursue a similar course
against Assad. Abdulbaset Sieda, whose exile-dominated SNC is
part of a patchwork of rebel movements, told al-Hayat newspaper:
"We demand everything that will stop the killing of Syrians."
However, the United States and European governments are wary
of the complexities, of ethnic and sectarian rivalries coming to
the fore and of weapons falling into the hands of anti-Western
Islamists, who form part of the rebel forces fighting in Syria.
France, which pushed hard for NATO's Libyan campaign and is
a vocal supporter of the opposition in Syria, its former colony,
has "seriously" discussed arming the rebels, a diplomat said.
But Eric Chevallier, the ambassador to Syria, told French
radio on Tuesday that such a move was complex. He said President
Francois Hollande had asked him to work with all the opposition
groups, including combatants, to help them organise themselves.
The risks of greater violence were underlined by a general
who defected from Assad's army and reached Turkey three months
ago: "We were in a serious discussion about the use of chemical
weapons, including how we would use them and in what areas,"
Major-General Adnan Sillu told Britain's Times newspaper.
"We discussed this as a last resort - such as if the regime
lost control of an important area such as Aleppo."
Sillu said that when he was there Syria also spoke of giving
chemical weapons to the Lebanese group Hezbollah - a move that
could draw in the Shi'ite movement's sworn enemy, Israel.