The chief of Lebanon's Hezbollah says his group will not stand by while the neighboring government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is attacked.
Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech Saturday Hezbollah was fighting in Syria to protect Lebanon from the threat of radical Islamists. It was the first time Nasrallah has publicly confirmed Hezbollah's fighting presence in Syria.
The speech was given as Syrian troops and fighters from Lebanon-based Hezbollah were carrying out 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's violence killed 22 people. The group said the barrage of shelling and rocket fire on the town's main roads 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.
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.
Russia and the United States have proposed opening a peace conference on Syria 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.
Kerry told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Saturday on the sidelines of an African Union summit that the United States needs U.N. help to get things moving with Syria.