Syria: The next few days will be critical (+video)
Russia and China voted down a U.N. Security Council resolution that might have imposed sanctions on Syria. Diplomacy has been mostly ineffective throughout much of the crisis. Violence persists in the country's capital, Damascus.
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Syrian television showed the bodies of about 20 men in T-shirts and jeans with weapons lying at their sides, sprawled across a road in the capital's Qaboun district. It described them as terrorists killed in battle.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Reaching a critical juncture in Syria
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The operations to seize the border checkpoints appear to show a level of coordination and effectiveness hitherto unseen from the rebels, who have been outgunned and outnumbered by the army throughout the 16-month conflict.
Footage filmed by rebels at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey showed them climbing onto rooftops and tearing up a poster of Assad.
"The crossing is under our control. They withdrew their armoured vehicles," said a rebel fighter who would only be identified as Ali, being treated for wounds on the Turkish side.
Two officers in the rebel Free Syrian Army said fighters were keeping themselves busy into the early hours of Friday, dismantling border computer systems, seizing security records and emptying the shelves of the duty-free shop.
At least 30 government tanks in the area had not mobilised to try to recapture the border post, according to Ahmad Zaidan, a senior Free Syrian Army commander.
Officials in neighbouring Lebanon said refugees were pouring across the frontier: a security source said 20,000 Syrians had crossed on Thursday.
Diplomacy has been largely ineffective throughout the crisis, with Western countries condemning Assad but showing no stomach for the sort of robust intervention that saw NATO bombers help blast Libya's Muammar Gaddafi from power last year.
Thursday's failed U.N. Security Council resolution, which would have extended a small, unarmed U.N. monitoring mission, was the third that has been vetoed by Russia and China.
With the mandate for the mission set to expire at 0400 GMT on Saturday, Western states that pushed the resolution to renew the operation under a threat of sanctions against Damascus reacted angrily to the vetoes.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said the Security Council had "failed utterly", and Washington would look outside the body for ways "to bring pressure to bear on the Assad regime and to deliver assistance to those in need."
The Security Council was set for another showdown on Friday over new rival resolutions intended to simply extend the mission. Pakistan, with the support of Russia, is proposing a 45-day extension, while Britain has put forward a 30-day extension.
After negotiations late on Thursday, it was unclear if either measure had enough backing to pass - at least nine votes and no vetoes by the United States, Britain, France, Russia or China. The Security Council is scheduled to vote on Friday.
(Additional reporting by Oliver Holmes, Samia Nakhoul and Dominic Evans in Beirut, Suleiman Al-Khalidi in Cilvegozu, Turkey, and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Andrew Roche and Peter Cooney)