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Syrian TV correspondent killed covering fighting

By Bassem Mroue

Associated Press

Published: Monday, May 27 2013 8:26 a.m. MDT

In this image taken from video obtained from the Shaam News Network, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, Syrians participate in the funeral prayer for Youssef Ghazi al-Sarmani who was killed in fighting between rebel and government forces, Monday, May 27, 2013. Logo in red reads, "Talbiseh".

Shaam News Network via AP video, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

DAMASCUS, Syria — Gunmen killed a TV correspondent for a Syrian state-owned channel and wounded two other station employees Monday who were covering clashes near the border with Lebanon, Syria's government said, as regime troops backed by fighters from the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group advanced on a rebel-held town in the strategic area.

The fighting around the town of Qusair has taken a heavy toll on both the rebel and government forces, including the regime's Hezbollah allies. An activist group said the Lebanese militia has lost nearly 80 fighters this month, most of them in Qusair.

Syria's Information Ministry said Yara Abbas, a prominent female war reporter for state-owned Al-Ikhbariyah TV, was attacked by rebels near the Dabaa military air base in the central province of Homs. The ministry said in a statement carried by state TV that the car carrying Abbas and her crew was ambushed in Dabaa.

The attack also wounded two other of the station's employees, a cameraman and his assistant, according to state TV.

Dozens of journalists have been killed, wounded or kidnapped since Syria's crisis began in March 2011. Over that time, more than 70,000 people have been killed in the conflict, according to the United Nations.

Dabaa air base is located near Qusair, which has been under attack by government forces and Hezbollah fighters since last week. Dozens of rebels, troops and Hezbollah members have been killed in the heavy fighting that entered its 9th day on Monday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported fighting in Qusair and Dabaa early Monday. It said troops and Hezbollah fighters captured the nearby town of Hamidiyeh, tightening the siege on Qusair.

Observatory director Rami Abdul-Rahman said troops are now trying to capture the village of Haret al-Turkumen in order to put Qusair under "complete siege."

State TV said troops captured more parts of the northern and central rebel-held neighborhoods of Qusair that had been mostly under rebel control shortly after the crisis began.

The Observatory said that Hezbollah has lost 79 members in Syria in 10 days of fighting, all of them but four of them in the Qusair area.

The battle for Qusair has exposed Hezbollah's growing role in the Syrian conflict. The Shiite militant group, which has been fighting alongside President Bashar Assad's troops, initially tried to play down its involvement, but could no longer do so after dozens of its fighters were killed in the area and buried in large funerals in Lebanon.

On Saturday, Hezbollah's leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah firmly linked his militant group's fate to the survival of the Syrian regime, raising the stakes not just in Syria, but also in Hezbollah's relations with rival groups in Lebanon.

Qusair's value lies in its location along a land corridor linking two of Assad's strongholds, the capital of Damascus and towns on the Mediterranean coast, the heartland of his minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. For the rebels, holding Qusair means protecting a supply line to Lebanon, 10 kilometers (six miles) away.

Also Monday, Syrian TV said troops ambushed a group of gunmen shortly after they crossed from Lebanon on their way to Qusair. It said the infiltrators suffered casualties.

Al-Mayadeen TV, which has several reporters embedded with Syrian troops, aired footage from the town showing wide-scale destruction. At least three bodies could be seen on one of the streets.

The Observatory and the Local Coordination Committees reported clashes and shelling in other parts of Syria including the capital Damascus and its suburbs, the northern province of Aleppo and Idlib and Daraa to the south.

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