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Syrian army gains ground

Troops loyal to the Syrian regime made advances yesterday on the rebel stronghold town of Qusayr near the border with Lebanon.

BEIRUT // Troops loyal to the Syrian regime made advances yesterday on the rebel stronghold town of Qusayr near the border with Lebanon.

The army, backed by pro-regime militia and Hizbollah fighters from Lebanon, is aiming to crush insurgents in villages surrounding Qusayr, and to then launch an assault on the town, Syrian activists said.

Three new shells launched from the Qusayr area landed in eastern Lebanon, the official National News Agency reported, in what rebels described as retaliation for Hizbollah's involvement in Syria's war and for allegedly firing from across the Lebanese border.

Qusayr has been under rebel control for more than a year. It is strategic because it lays on a route linking Damascus to the coast.

Qusayr-based activist Hadi Al Abdallah said Hizbollah fighters were instrumental to the army's advance.

"The only reason why the regime is advancing in the Qusayr area is because of Hizbollah's troops. Hizbollah fighters advance on the ground, while the (Syrian) air force gives them cover," Mr Al Abdallah said.

The fighting has left dozens of people dead this week.

In another sign of spillover from the war, police in Jordan yesterday arrested eight Syrians on suspicion of inciting riots at a refugee camp near the Jordan-Syria border. About 100 Syrian refugees threw stones at Jordanian police on Friday for preventing some of them from sneaking out of their desert camp. Ten police officers were wounded, including two who remain in critical condition.

* Agence France-Presse, with additional reporting by the Associated Press

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