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Hezbollah Chief Confirms Syria Presence

Supporters of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah watch a broadcast of his speech in Mashghara, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, May 25, 2013.
Supporters of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah watch a broadcast of his speech in Mashghara, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, May 25, 2013.
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.

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

Opposition deadlocked

Meanwhile, in Istanbul, the Syrian opposition remains deadlocked on electing a new leadership and president. During three days of talks Western backers of the opposition are pushing for broader leadership, but attempts to weaken the power of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood in the Syrian National Coalition have so far failed.

In Jordan Saturday, Senator John McCain called for Washington to arm some Syrian rebel groups. He also urged the Obama administration to back a no-fly zone in Syria to provide aid for citizens.

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.
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