US President Barack Obama has asked the US Congress to approve a $500 million fund to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad.              

A White House statement said rebels would be vetted before being given assistance, in an effort to assuage concerns that some equipment provided to the Syrian opposition might ultimately fall into the hands of America's enemies.
President Obama has been under strong pressure from some lawmakers to increase assistance to the Syrian opposition in that country's civil war.

It has emerged the Syrian air force carried out air strikes targeting militants along the Iraq-Syria border this week, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has told the BBC.

Mr Maliki said he "welcomed" any such strike against militants led by the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also known as ISIL.

However, he noted that Baghdad did not request the aerial raids which took place on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, insurgents have taken a town an hour from Baghdad that is home to four natural gas fields.

The overnight offensive included Mansouriyat al-Jabal, home to the gas fields where foreign companies operate, security forces said.

It is another gain by Sunni insurgents who have swiftly taken large areas to the north and west of the Iraqi capital.

The offensive, which has alarmed the international community, has left more than 1,000 people dead and has displaced hundreds of thousands.

Three months after elections, Iraq's presidency said a session of parliament would be held on 1 July, the first step to forming a new government.

Parliament will then have 30 days to name a president and 15 days after that to name a prime minister.

However, the process has been delayed in the past, taking nine months to seat the government in 2010.

Mr Maliki has dismissed the call of mainly Sunni political and religious figures, some with links to armed groups fighting Mr Maliki, for a "national salvation government" that would choose figures to lead the country and, in effect, bypass the election.

Iraq's Shia religious cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a foe of Mr Maliki's, called for all Iraqis to deplore the Sunni insurgency and rally behind the army but said that a new government was needed "with faces from all spectrums and away from sectarian quotas".

Head of the Mehdi Army, a Shia militia which fought US troops in Baghdad, Mr Sadr vowed in a speech last night to "shake the ground under the feet of ignorance and radicalism just as we did under the feet of the occupier".

A suicide bomber has killed at least 19 people at a market in the predominately Shia neighbourhood of Kadhimiyah in Baghdad, officials say.

The blast, which wounded dozens more, struck at 6.30pm local time in the Bab al-Darwaza market, home to a shrine to a revered Shia figure.

Northern Iraq's largest city Mosul fell to Sunni insurgents on 10 June and they took Tikrit city two days later.

Kurdish forces moved into Kirkuk on 11 June and now control the oil city.

Army air strikes hit south Mosul overnight, killing one and wounding six people.