42 Syrian soldiers killed in Iraq: army

Unidentified armed men on Monday ambushed a convoy carrying Syrian soldiers who crossed into Iraq from the site of weekend fighting, killing 42 Syrians and seven Iraqis, army officers said.

The soldiers crossed into Iraq from the Yaarubiyeh border crossing, the scene of fighting on Saturday between rebels and troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, army Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed Khalaf al-Dulaimi told AFP.

The soldiers were first transported by the Iraqi authorities to Baghdad from the northern Nineveh province, which borders the crossing, and they were on their way back to be handed over to Syrian authorities on the border with Anbar province in western Iraq when the attack took place, Dulaimi said.

Armed men attacked the convoy from two sides with mortar rounds, automatic weapons and mines, killing 42 Syrian soldiers and seven Iraqis. Eight Syrians and four Iraqis were wounded, and three vehicles in the convoy destroyed, he said.

Major Ali Juwair al-Dulaimi from Iraq's Anbar Operations Command confirmed the toll.

The Monday attack comes after defence ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askari said an Iraqi soldier was killed and three people including a soldier wounded at the Yaarubiyeh crossing in Nineveh province on Saturday in clashes between Syrian rebel and regime forces.

He also said four wounded Syrian soldiers were treated at an Iraqi hospital during Saturday's fighting.

Baghdad has pointedly avoided calling for the departure of Assad, who is locked in a bloody civil war with rebels opposed to his regime, and has instead urged an end to violence by all parties.

But US officials have repeatedly called on the Iraqi government to halt Iranian flights to Syria via Iraqi airspace, which they say are transporting weapons to Assad's forces.

A key Syrian opposition group meanwhile accused the Iraqi government on Sunday of intervening in Syria.

"After the Iraqi government headed by (Prime Minister) Nuri al-Maliki gave political and intelligence support to the Syrian regime... the Baghdad regime has moved on to a new level of intervention in Syrian affairs," said the Syrian National Council.

It charged that Baghdad was "attacking the Syrian people, their basic rights and their territorial sovereignty."