AKCAKALE, Turkey -- Syrian rebels seized control of a border crossing on the frontier with Turkey yesterday, ripping down the Syrian flag as they expand their control of the country's north in the struggle to oust President Bashar Assad.
Assad, meanwhile, told Iran's visiting foreign minister that the fight against his government "targets resistance as a whole, not only Syria," an apparent reference to countries and groups opposed to Israel's existence. The "axis of resistance" includes Syria and Iran, along with the Shia Muslim Hezbollah group in Lebanon and the Palestinian militant Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
The Iranian, Ali Akbar Salehi, arrived in Syria after a visit to Cairo as part of an Egyptian-sponsored Syria peace initiative grouping Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt -- all supporters of the rebels -- with Iran.
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi warned Iran on Tuesday that its support for the Syrian regime was hurting chances of better relations with Egypt. The promise of greater rapprochement with Egypt is part of a package of incentives and efforts by Morsi to lure Iran away from Damascus and find an end to the bloodshed.
After meeting with Assad yesterday, Salehi pledged his country's "unwavering support" to Syria to end the fighting, according to the Syrian state news agency SANA.
Assad, in turn, said, "The success of any initiative is the truthful intention to help Syria," SANA said. A collapse of the Assad regime would be a major blow in Iran's attempts to expand its influence in the region.
Yesterday's capture of the border crossing with Turkey was a strategic boost for the rebels, allowing them to ferry supplies into the country. They have captured several other crossings into Turkey, and one on the Iraq border. The latest seizure is believed to be the first time they have overrun a frontier post in the northern province of Raqqa, which could help in the fight for Aleppo, about 100 miles away.
In Washington, the Obama administration identified 117 Iranian aircraft it said are ferrying weapons to the Syrian regime. The planes operated by Iran Air, Mahan Air and Yas Air are delivering weapons and Iranian forces under the cover of "humanitarian" shipments, the Treasury Department said. The airlines are already subject to U.S. sanctions: Americans cannot do business with them and any assets they have in the United States are frozen. But the United States is now listing planes individually, partly to pressure Iraq to crack down on Iranian weapons shipments to Syria via Iraqi airspace.