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Hezbollah joins Syrians battling rebels

BEIRUT -- Backed by elite troops of Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group, Syrian government forces fought rebels in a strategic opposition-held Syrian town near the Lebanese border for the third straight day yesterday.

Lebanese security officials said fighting between Syrian troops and rebels over the town of Qusair had spread to the village of Hit, on the Syrian side near the border with Lebanon. Two opposition fighters were killed and several others wounded, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with army regulations.

The Syrian conflict also spilled into Lebanon as factions supporting opposing sides in Syria's civil war fought in the Lebanese port city of Tripoli. The National News Agency said one person was killed and two others, including a Syrian citizen, were wounded in the clashes. Earlier in the day, six people were wounded in another border area close to Qusair after Syrian shells landed on the Lebanese side, the Lebanese officials said.

Qusair, which had been in rebel hands for more than a year, has been the target of a government offensive in recent weeks, with the surrounding countryside engulfed in fighting as regime troops backed by Hezbollah fighters seized nearby villages and closed in. On Sunday, Assad's forces pushed deep inside the town, taking control of more than 60 percent of it, according to a Syrian official.

At least 31 fighters from the Hezbollah group, a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, have been killed in the struggle for the town of Qusair since Sunday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shia movement, is heavily invested in the survival of the Damascus regime and is known to have sent fighters to aid government forces. The group's growing role in the conflict next door points to the deeply sectarian nature of the war in Syria, in which a rebellion driven by the country's Sunni majority seeks to overthrow a regime dominated by the Alawite minority.

Hezbollah's growing role in the Syrian war has raised tensions considerably in Lebanon and strengthened concerns of the conflict spilling over the country's volatile border.

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