Syrian rebels have taken control of a number of the country's border posts. Fighting in Damascus rages on after the global community failed within the UN Security Council to reach agreement on a way forward.
Rebels said on Thursday they had seized a number of Syria's border crossings, raising fresh questions about President Bashar al-Assad's grip on power.
Rebels attacked Syrian forces at two spots along the border with Iraq on Thursday, reportedly killing 21 government soldiers as the army focused its efforts on growing instability within the capital Damascus.
Officials in Iraq confirmed rebels had taken control of the main Abu Kamal border checkpoint on the Euphrates River highway.
Rebels also claimed to have seized control of at least two border crossings with Turkey, at Bab al-Hawa and Jarablus. Amateur video from one of the crossings showed rebels removing a picture on al-Assad and stamping on it.
Report of highest death toll yet
At least 248 people, including 109 civilians, died in fighting in the country on Thursday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The observatory said it was the highest daily death toll since the turmoil began - and warned that the figure might be far higher.
Fighting still raged in the capital Damascus, with the whereabouts of al-Assad, his wife and their three young children unknown.
Witnesses told the Reuters news agency that the headquarters of the Damascus Province had been torched and looted in a rebel attack.
Rebels had apparently isolated two main roads leading to the complex in the central Qanawat district. Opposition activists in Damascus said rebels had entered the fortified complex after a firefight, taking weapons before withdrawing.
President's short television appearance
Al-Assad did appear on television briefly, swearing in his new defense minister after an attack that killed three top officials on Wednesday. However, the report on state television did not say where the ceremony took place.
The attack killed Defense Minister Dawoud Rajha; deputy defense minister and brother-in-aw to al-Assad, Gen. Assef Shawkat; and former defense minister Hassan Turkmani.
The fighting overshadowed diplomatic efforts to obtain a UN Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on Syrian authorities unless they halted the violence. China and Russia vetoed the resolution, the third time they have done so in the past year.
rc/ipj (AFP, AP, dpa,Reuters)