March 27, 2015 / 6:53 PM / in 2 years

Syrian army closes in on city near Lebanese border

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Syrian army, backed by Hezbollah fighters, closed in on the city of Zabadani near the border with Lebanon on Friday, a Lebanese security source said, and Syrian media said at least 20 insurgents had been killed in the battles to seize high ground.

Violence from Syria’s four-year war has regularly tipped over into Lebanon, and militiamen from the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shi‘ite Muslim group Hezbollah have been fighting on the side of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Syrian state news agency SANA, citing a Syrian military source, said the army had gained control of at least ten “strategic areas” to the west of Zabadani. The military had “managed to kill and injure a large number of terrorists” and destroyed many of their bases, it said.

Those killed included a number of foreign fighters, it added.

The Lebanese television station al-Manar, run by Hezbollah, broadcast footage of Syrian soldiers in a mountainous area using heavy weapons around Zabadani, and showed the body of at least one enemy combatant.

Syrian forces and pro-government fighters have regularly clashed with insurgents in the mountainous area north of the capital Damascus. The rebel groups in the area include al Qaeda’s Syrian wing, the Nusra Front.

Reporting by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Andrew Heavens

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