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Syrian rebels want Hezbollah to retreat

BEIRUT — The Syrian opposition called on Hezbollah to withdraw its fighters from the country, as activists said regime troops supported by gunmen linked to the Lebanese Shi’ite militant group battled rebels Sunday for control of a string of villages near the Lebanon-Syria border.

Outside the capital, Damascus, activists said they had documented the names of 80 people killed in a government assault on the area over the past five days.

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The Syrian National Coalition — the main Western-backed opposition group — warned that Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria’s civil war could lead to greater risks in the area, and urged the Lebanese government to ‘‘adopt the necessary measures to stop the aggression of Hezbollah’’ and to control the border to ‘‘protect civilians in the area.’’

The statement, posted on the Coalition’s Facebook page, coincided with a surge in fighting around the town of Qusair in Syria’s Homs province near the frontier with Lebanon.

Over the past two weeks, the Syrian military, supported by a Hezbollah-backed militia, has pushed to regain control of the border area. The region is strategic because it links Damascus with the Mediterranean coastal enclave that is the heartland of President Bashar Assad’s Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam.

The fighting also points to the sectarian nature of the Syrian conflict, which pits a government dominated by the president’s Alawite minority against a primarily Sunni Muslim rebellion, and underscores fears that the civil war could drag in neighboring states.

The proregime gunmen are members of the Popular Committees, which were set up last year in Syria with Hezbollah’s backing.

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