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48 Syrian soldiers killed in Iraq ambush

BAGHDAD -- Dozens of Syrian soldiers who had crossed into Iraq for refuge were ambushed yesterday with bombs, gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades, killing 48 of them and heightening concerns that Iraq could be drawn into Syria's civil war.

The fact the soldiers were on Iraqi soil at all raises questions about Baghdad's apparent willingness to quietly aid the embattled regime of President Bashar 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.

Iraqi officials said the Syrians had sought refuge through the Rabiya border crossing in northern Iraq during recent clashes with rebels and were being escorted back home through a different crossing farther south. Their convoy was struck near Akashat, not far from the Syrian border.

Ali al-Moussawi, a spokesman for Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said nine Iraqi soldiers were also killed. The Syrians had been disarmed and included some who were wounded, he told The Associated Press. He said the soldiers had been allowed into Iraq only on humanitarian grounds.

In Syria, rebels pushed government troops out of most of the northern city of Raqqa, on the Euphrates River, setting off celebrations in a central square. If rebels succeed in taking Raqqa, with a population of 500,000, it would be the first time an entire city had fallen into the hands of the rebels.

In Saudi Arabia, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal together warned Assad that they will boost support to the rebels unless he steps down. -- AP

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