DAMASCUS, Syria, Sept. 16 (UPI) -- Syria said Sunday its troops intercepted anti-government rebels entering the country from neighboring Turkey as widespread fighting continued.
Meanwhile, Middle East Online reported Iran acknowledged for the first time it has elite forces present in Syria and Lebanon as "counselors."
The commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards told reporters in Tehran that members of the Quds Force are in the two countries, the news website said.
"A number of Quds Force members are present in Syria and Lebanon ... we provide [these countries] with counsel and advice, and transfer experience to them," Guards Brig. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari said.
"But it does not mean that we have a military presence there."
Iran has been backing the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad in his 18-month battle against the rebels.
State-run Syrian radio and TV said among the many successes enjoyed by the army Saturday was an engagement near the Turkish border in Idleb province that sent the rebels fleeing back into Turkey.
Turkey is providing shelter to an estimated 80,000 Syrian refugees and has been worried about being dragged into the bloody Syrian civil war. Damascus has consistently blamed the rebellion on "terrorists" supported by hostile foreign powers.
Syrian radio said the military inflicted heavy casualties on the rebels in clashes across the country, but did not supply exact figures. The Syrian Network for Human Rights said it documented 154 deaths Sunday, including 12 children and eight women. Sixty-one deaths were in Damascus and the surrounding area and 41 in Aleppo, with the rest scattered through several cities. The tolls reported by both sides have not been independently confirmed.
The new U.N. envoy to Syria met Saturday with Assad in another attempt to ratchet the level of violence down. Assad told Lakhdar Brahimi his regime was committed to ending the conflict, but indicated foreign involvement in the process was not welcome.
"The success of the political work is linked to pressing the countries which fund and train the terrorists, confiscate weapons into Syria to stop such acts," the president said, according to a dispatch from the official SANA news agency.
Brahimi, who recently replaced Kofi Annan as the chief U.N. and Arab League representative in Syria, told reporters he was still in the process of sorting out the current views of all parties, including regional and international, CNN said.
"We will set the plan that we will follow after listening to all internal, regional and international parties, hoping that such a plan will manage to open channels towards ending the crisis, and will be also accompanied by a clear strategy," Brahimi said.
Middle East Online also said the United Nations said more than 2,000 schools in Syria have been damaged or destroyed, with hundreds more being used as shelters.
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