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Assault on Qusair Intensifies Ahead of Hezbollah Speech

Syrian anti-government activists say Syrian troops have launched the heaviest barrage of gunfire yet in a week-long battle to re-take the strategic town of Qusair from rebel fighters.

The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Saturday that the barrage of shelling and rocket fire on the main roads of town is at its most intense since the offensive began last Sunday.

The rebels are fighting to hold Qusair as a means of protecting their supply lines to Lebanon.

Saturday's assault on Qusair by Syrian forces and fighters from Lebanon-based Hezbollah comes ahead of a key speech later in the day by Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah. The speech marks the anniversary of Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000. The anniversary is marked each year as a major military victory.



On Friday, Russia said the Syrian government has agreed in principle to attend a proposed international conference on ending the civil war and setting up a transitional government.

But a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said Friday it is not possible to set a date yet because it is not clear yet who will speak for the Syrian opposition.

Russia and the United States have proposed opening the peace conference next month in Geneva. A senior U.S. State Department official confirmed to VOA that Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet Monday in Paris on the latest plans for the talks.

More than 80,000 people have been killed and several million displaced since the start of the rebellion against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad more than two years ago.

The State Department says involvement in Syria by Lebanese-based Hezbollah militants risks dragging Lebanon into a foreign war. Fighting this past week between backers and opponents of the Assad government killed 23 people in the northern Lebanese port city of Tripoli.

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