Syrian rebels tell Hezbollah to keep out

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The Syrian opposition has called on Hezbollah to withdraw its fighters from the country immediately, as activists said regime troops supported by gunmen linked to the Lebanese Shiite militant group battled rebels yesterday for control of a string of villages near the border.

The Syrian National Coalition – the main western-backed opposition group – warned that Hezbollah involvement in Syria’s civil war could lead to greater risks in the area, and urged the Lebanese government to “adopt the necessary measures to stop the aggression of Hezbollah” and to control the border to “protect civilians in the area.”

The statement, posted on the coalition’s Facebook page, coincides with a surge in fighting around the contested town of Qusair in Syria’s Homs province. Over the past two weeks, the Syrian military, supported by pro-regime militia backed by Hezbollah, has pushed to regain control of the border area – a strategic region because it links Damascus with the coastal enclave that is the heartland of president Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite sect. It also points to the sectarian nature of the Syrian conflict, which pits the president’s Alawite minority against a primarily Sunni Muslim rebellion.