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Syrian rebels target Hezbollah militia, fire rockets into Lebanon

From Yousuf Basil, CNN
updated 11:09 AM EDT, Tue May 21, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Obama stresses his concern to the Lebanese president over Hezbollah's "active and growing role"
  • Across Syria, at least 62 people have died in violence Monday, opposition says
  • Qusayr is strategically valuable to rebels and government forces
  • Israeli vehicle reportedly seized; Israel calls claim "cheap propaganda"

Read a version of this story in Arabic.

(CNN) -- The fighting in Syria has taken another dangerous turn, with rebel rockets targeting Hezbollah locations in Lebanon.

Rebels battling for control of Qusayr, a strategically important western town in Syria, fired rockets Sunday across the Lebanese border at the militant group's areas, the rebel Free Syrian Army said.

Hezbollah, the pro-regime and pro-Iranian Shiite militia regarded as a dangerous terror group by the United States and Sunni countries, is fighting alongside President Bashar al-Assad's security forces.

The Free Syrian Army claimed it fired Grad rockets from the city of Qusayr into northeastern Lebanon, targeting Hezbollah areas in Hermel. The opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said that direct hits were reported in Hermel and that checkpoints were also targeted.

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The official Lebanese news agency, NNA, reported the short-range strikes.

The outlet said the strikes caused no damage or casualties. But the rockets underscored fears that bordering nations -- such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan -- will be sucked into the conflict, now in its third year.

The White House said President Barack Obama spoke on the phone Monday to Lebanese President Michel Sleiman and "stressed his concern about Hezballah's active and growing role in Syria, fighting on behalf of the Assad regime, which is counter to the Lebanese government's policies."

The civil war in Syria has left around 80,000 people dead and displaced a few million, the United Nations says.

Qusayr, in Homs province near the Lebanese border, is now a major battle front in Syria.

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For rebels fighting al-Assad's government, it sits along a transit route for weapons and supplies coming in from Lebanon. For the Syrian government, Qusayr is along a rebel supply line that al-Assad must neutralize to retake control of Homs and foster safer passage between the Mediterranean coast and the capital of Damascus.

Fighting still raged Monday in Qusayr. A rebel spokesman, Tariq Maraey, told CNN that six people were killed in government shelling Monday.

Dozens of people in the city, including Hezbollah members, were killed Sunday, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, during fighting for the city.

The regime's Syrian Arab News Agency said soldiers have restored stability to the eastern side of the city "after killing big numbers of terrorists and destroying their hideouts."

The news outlet also quoted an official source saying armed forces seized an Israeli vehicle used by "terrorists," the term the government uses to describe its armed opponents.

An Israeli military spokesman said the vehicle, a jeep, had been out of Israeli service for more than 10 years.

"This is a cheap propaganda attempt and nothing more," the spokesman said of the Syrian government report.

Throughout the country, including Homs province, at least 62 people have died Monday, the LCC said.

READ MORE: Violence surges in strategic Syrian city

READ MORE: U.N.: More than 1.5 million fled Syria, 4 million more displaced within nation

CNN's Joe Sterling, Nic Robertson and Kareem Khadder contributed to this report.

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