(LONDON TELEGRAPH) The fall of the statue came amid claims that the Syrian rebels had taken Raqqa, on the Euphrates River, in what would be a significant development in the two-year-old revolt against Assad. The rebels do not claim to hold any other provincial capitals.

Rebel fighters said loyalist forces were still dug in at the provincial airport 60 km (40 miles) from Raqqa and they remained a threat. A resident said that a Syrian military intelligence compound in the town was not in rebel hands but was surrounded by anti-Assad fighters.

On Monday the civil war burst into neighbouring Iraq, where officials reported that gunmen had killed at least 40 Syrian soldiers and government employees as they headed home after fleeing a Syrian rebel advance last week.

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