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Syrian conflict spreads to Lebanon

Syrian rebels have fought with gunmen from Lebanon's Hezbollah militia in a deadly clash on Lebanese soil overnight, in the latest sign Syria's civil war is spilling over the country's borders.

It was the worst clash on Lebanese territory since the outbreak of the conflict more than two years ago.

Hezbollah and Syria's rebels fight on opposite sides inside Syria, and tensions between them have risen sharply since the Lebanese militia stepped up its armed support for President Bashar Assad's regime last month.

Rebel fighters have threatened to attack Hezbollah bases in Lebanon, and on Saturday 18 rockets and mortar rounds hit Lebanon's eastern Baalbek region, a Hezbollah stronghold.

On Saturday night Hezbollah apparently encircled and ambushed a group of Syrian rebels and allied Lebanese fighters whom they suspected of rocketing Baalbek a day earlier, said the Lebanese security official.

He said a Hezbollah fighter and several rebels were killed in the clashes in a remote area between Baalbek and the Syrian border.

The Lebanese TV station Al-Mayadeen, seen as sympathetic to the Syrian regime, quoted Lebanese security officials as saying 17 fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra, a rebel group linked to the global al-Qaida terror network, were killed in the fighting.

The growing tensions between Hezbollah and rebels trying to oust Assad are linked to a regime offensive against the rebel-held town of Qusair in western Syria. Hezbollah's involvement in the battle for control of the strategic town has exposed its growing role in the Syria conflict, prompting rebel threats to target Hezbollah's bases in Lebanon.

Meanwhile, low-flying Israeli warplanes again violated Lebanese airspace, overflying the capital Beirut, the eastern Bekaa Valley and the city of Baalbek, Lebanese security officials and the state-run news agency said.

Israeli warplanes regularly enter Lebanese airspace. A security official confirmed the overflights and said they were among the most intense recently. There was no immediate comment from Israel.

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