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Hezbollah guerrillas step up for Syria's Assad, lose 30 in fighting

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By Reuters
Monday, May 20, 2013, 8:51 p.m.

Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas have fought their biggest battle yet for Syria's beleaguered president, prompting international alarm that the civil war may spread and an urgent call for restraint from the United States.

About 30 Hezbollah fighters were killed on Sunday, Syrian activists said, along with 20 Syrian troops and militiamen loyal to President Bashar Assad during the fiercest fighting this year in the rebel stronghold of Qusair, near the Lebanon border.

That would be the highest daily loss for the Iranian-backed movement in Syria, highlighting how it is increasing its efforts to bolster Assad; it prompted President Obama to voice his concern to his Lebanese counterpart, Michel Suleiman.

If confirmed, the Hezbollah losses reflect how Syria is becoming a proxy conflict between Shiite Iran and Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which back Assad's mostly Sunni enemies. Dozens of deaths in sectarian bombings in Iraq on Monday and killings in the Lebanese city of Tripoli compounded a sense of spreading regional confrontation.

Western powers and Russia back opposing sides in the cross-border Syrian free-for-all, which is sucking in Israel — though Washington and its allies have fought shy of intervening militarily behind fractured and partly Islamist rebel forces.

The White House said Obama spoke to Lebanese President Suleiman and “stressed his concern about Hezbollah's active and growing role in Syria, fighting on behalf of the Assad regime, which is counter to the Lebanese government's policies.” The Beirut government, however, has limited means to influence the politically and militarily powerful Shiite group.

The two leaders agreed “all parties should respect Lebanon's policy of disassociation from the conflict in Syria and avoid actions that will involve the Lebanese people in the conflict.”

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