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Syria troops, Hezbollah advancing on Qusayr

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Fierce clashes between rebels and fighters loyal to President Bashar al-Assad's regime raged on Thursday around insurgent-held Qusayr in central Syria, a monitoring group said.

An army officer told AFP the military seized control of Shumariyeh village near the town of Qusayr.

"The Syrian army seized back control of Shumariyeh in the Qusayr countryside, and troops are currently on their way to the village of Ghassaniyeh" which has been under rebel control for more than a year, the officer said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the report.

"Backed by pro-regime militia and Hezbollah fighters, the army is advancing in the Qusayr area," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

"They have superior firepower and their campaign to take back Qusayr is fierce," he added.

Backed by fighters loyal to powerful Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, which supports Assad, the Damascus regime launched an intensified bid last month to retake Qusayr.

The town fell out of regime control more than a year ago, but has faced daily shelling and frequent aerial bombardment.

It is strategically located near the Lebanese border and just south of Syria's third city, Homs, which lies on the road linking Damascus to the coast.

Weeks after radical Lebanese Sunni sheikhs called on men from the country to join Syrian rebels fighting Assad and Hezbollah, two Lebanese fighters from the northern city of Tripoli were killed in Qusayr, a Lebanese security source said.

Lebanon has suffered a spillover of Syria's raging conflict, with frequent cross-border shelling targeting the north and the east of the small Mediterranean country.

On Thursday, three shells hit Hermel in eastern Lebanon, and two others hit Masharia al-Qaa nearby, a security source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Fighting also raged in flashpoints across Syria, among them Barzeh in northern Damascus, said the Observatory, which relies on a broad network of activists, doctors and lawyers for its reports.

Southwest of Damascus, the air force bombarded rebel positions located between rebel strongholds Daraya and Moadamiyet al-Sham, which the regime has been fighting to reclaim since last year.

Meanwhile, in Idlib in northwest Syria, large swathes of which are rebel-held, insurgents used rockets to hit an ammunition stockpile in Qarmid army base, the Observatory said.

In January, the United Nations said at least 70,000 people had died so far in the conflict.

ser/sah/hc

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130513/syria-troops-hezbollah-advancing-qusayr