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Syria

Syrian opposition accuses Hezbollah of fighting for Assad

Syria’s opposition has accused Lebanon-based Hezbollah militias of crossing into Syria to fight for President Bashar Assad. Rebels have also pressed their battle for three northern Syrian airports and airbases.

Syria's main opposition bloc on Sunday accused the Lebanon-based Shiite Hezbollah militia of sending fighters into Syria on Saturday to attack three Sunni villages inside Syria's Qusayr border region which lie in the central province of Homs.

Opposition activists quoted by the news agency Associated Press provided no evidence but said that 12 Shiites, five Syrian rebels and 7 Sunni civilians had been killed in the incident.

In Lebanon, a Hezbollah spokesman said three Lebanese Shiites were killed in clashes in Syria while acting in "self defense", without specifying whether they were Hezbollah members.

Lebanon's Iranian-backed Hezbollah is Shiite, while most of Syria's population and rebels battling Syrian President Assad are Sunni. His ruling clan belongs to the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

The opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) said the alleged Hezbollah incursion had "stoked sectarian tensions" and had led to "civilian casualties and the exodus of hundreds."

Battle for airfields continue

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fierce battles raged near Syria's main northern city of Aleppo as rebels continued their bid to capture Aleppo's international airport and its adjacent Nairab military airbase (pictured above).

Assad troops continued to guard the Kwiyres military airbase to the east of Aleppo and the Menegh airbase to the north, it said.

Brahimi appeals for talks

The joint UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, on Sunday urged the Assad government to take up a recent offer of talks from the Syrian opposition leader, Mouaz al-Khatib.

Brahimi, speaking in Cairo after consultations with Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby, said the offer from Khatib had "opened the door and challenges the Syrian government to fulfill its often-repeated assertion that it is ready for dialogue and a peaceful settlement."

"This initiative is on the table and will be on the table," said Brahimi. "We believe that if a dialogue begins in one of the UN headquarters, at least initially, between the opposition and an acceptable delegation from the Syrian government, it will be a start for getting out of the dark tunnel in which Syria is placed."

On Friday, the Syrian National Coalition, said it would not accept Assad or members of his security services directly at such talks but it did not rule out dialogue with some members of his ruling Baath party, saying it welcomed talks with "honorable people".

Neither side has proposed a concrete timetable for such talks.

Power outage around Damascus

On Sunday, Syrian Electricity Minister Imad Khamis said power was being restored after an electricity outage plunged Damascus and southern Syria into darkness late on Saturday.

He blamed the blackout on an unspecified fault in high-voltage lines. A similar blackout struck the same areas on January 20.

Syria's conflict began in March 2011 with protests and turned into an armed insurgency after a harsh state crackdown. It has left 70,000 dead, according to latest UN estimates.

UN rights chief Navi Pillay has urged international action against Assad, including investigations for "crimes against humanity."

mkg/ipj (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)