Syrian rebels have seized some border crossings into Iraq and Turkey amid bloody fighting as China and Russia blocked again UN action against Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Rebels have attacked several border posts and took control of at least one major crossing into Iraq, at Abu Kamal, after killing 21 government troops.
Iraq's deputy interior minister Adnan al-Assadi told AFP that fighters of the rebel Free Syrian Army had seized control of all crossings along the two countries' border, which is more than 600 kilometers long.
The claim could not be independently confirmed. Reports said two border crossings into Turkey -- Bab al-Hawa and Jarablus -- were also overrun by rebels, but one of them, Bab al-Hawa, was later abandoned.
In Damascus, troops loyal to Assad launched artillery and helicopter gunship attacks against the rebels, one day after the assassination of three top Assad government officials.
July 19 was one of the bloodiest day since the beginning of the anti-Assad uprising in March 2011, with activists reporting some 250 fatalities across the country, including more than 100 civilians.
On the same day, China and Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution which would have extended the UN observer mission in Syria and imposed sanctions on Assad's regime.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice lambasted Russian claims that the western-backed resolution would have opened the door to military intervention:
"It would not even impose sanctions at this stage and despite paranoid, if not disingenuous claims by some to the contrary, it would, in no way, authorize nor even pave the way for foreign military intervention," said Rice.
She called the July 19 veto, which is the third in 10 months, "even more dangerous and deplorable" than the first two.
The mandate of the UN observer mission in Syria expires on July 20, and the council must pass a resolution by the end of the day if they are to extend it.
The British Ambassador to the UN, Mark Lyall Grant, circulated a "technical" draft resolution on July 19 in the afternoon which would extend the current observer mission in Syria for 30 days.
Assad's first images since the July 18 attack were broadcast on July 19 by state television, ending rumors he might have been injured.
The footage showed Assad swearing in a new defense minister, Fahd Jassim al-Freij, who replaced Daoud Rajha -- killed in Wednesday's attack. Assad's whereabouts remain unknown.
Lebanese authorities meanwhile announced that nearly 20,000 Syrians have fled from violence at home across the border into Lebanon since Wednesday.
With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa