Wednesday, September 19, 2012

More: Rebels removed the Syrian flag from the top of a government building at the Tel Abyad border gate - @Reuters

AKCAKALE, Turkey | Wed Sep 19, 2012 3:44am EDT

AKCAKALE, Turkey (Reuters) - Rebels tore down a Syrian flag at a border gate on the Turkish frontier on Wednesday as they battled to seize control of the crossing, and schools on the Turkish side shut down as bullets flew into the northern neighbor's soil.

Television footage showed Syrian rebels taking down the Syrian flag on top of a government building at the Tel Abyad border gate. The sound of sporadic gunfire could be heard and black smoke rose from parts of the building, which appeared to be a customs office.

It was not immediately clear whether the rebels, fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, had seized control of the whole crossing.

The fighting, which started on Tuesday evening, appeared to be the first attempt by insurgents to assert their grip over a border zone in Syria's al-Raqqa province, most of which has remained solidly pro-Assad.

Rebels hold two other crossings on the northern border with Turkey. A third border point would help strengthen their control in the north and put more pressure on the army as they battle for control of Syria's largest city Aleppo not far away.

The governor's office in the small town of Akcakale, on the Turkish side of the border post, ordered all schools in the town and the neighboring villages to close for one day for security reasons and banned all agricultural work in the area.

"A heavy hail of bullets is landing here. We are scared. We had to stay in another house last night. We don't know what to do," one man in his forties told CNN Turk television.

"Teachers, everyone have left the school next to us, they have fled the area," he said.

One Turkish woman and her daughter were wounded on Tuesday night by stray bullets and an official said other bullets had smashed windows in several houses along the border.

(Reporting by Kadir Celikcan; Writing by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Nick Tattersall)