Damascus: A Hezbollah commander has been killed in battle in Syria, as a monitoring group accused regime forces of executing five civilians during fierce fighting near the Lebanon border.
The death of the Hezbollah commander came yesterday as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad`s forces advanced in the key town of Nabuk, one of the last rebel-held areas of the strategic Qalamoun region along the Lebanese border.
A key member of the Syrian opposition meanwhile said the National Coalition would make a "final decision" later this month on whether to attend a Geneva peace conference planned for January 22 and aimed at ending the nearly three-year-old conflict.
Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite movement, has lost scores of fighters since it joined Assad in battling the Sunni-led rebels, inflaming sectarian tensions on both sides of the border.
A Lebanese security source confirmed that "Ali Bazzi, a high-ranking Hezbollah military commander, was killed today in a combat zone," without specifying the location.
A website for Bint Jbeil, Bazzi`s hometown in southern Lebanon, also announced his death and posted pictures of him in military garb and holding an automatic rifle, saying he "died a martyr as he was carrying out his sacred duty as a jihadist."
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has repeatedly defended his group`s involvement in Syria, most recently on Tuesday in an interview with Lebanese broadcaster OTV.
Hours after that interview Hezbollah said a member of its secretive top leadership was shot dead near Beirut, blaming Israel for his murder.
Hezbollah has been fighting alongside Syrian regime troops in Qalamoun in recent days, hoping to secure the mountainous area linking Damascus with the central Homs province and deprive the rebels of smuggling routes across the border to Lebanon.
"There is fierce fighting in Nabuk between government forces, backed by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, and Al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant," two Al-Qaeda-linked groups, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The group, which relies on activists and medics on the ground for its information, said regime troops had "executed five civilians, including two children," in the town.
Activists said they were able to transport the bodies to Yabrud, a nearby area held by rebels, and they uploaded pictures on social media that they said showed the bloodied corpses of the two children, one of which had a head wound.
The Observatory said Assad`s troops had taken "new sectors" of Nabuk yesterday after surrounding the town and pounding it with artillery for the past two weeks.