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Gunmen kill pro-Assad figure in Lebanon as Syria war spreads

Suspected rebel gunmen assassinated a well-known supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Lebanon on Wednesday, the latest sign that Syria's civil war is spreading to its smaller neighbor.

Mohammad Darra Jamo, a commentator who worked for Syrian state media and often appeared on Arab TV channels to press Assad's cause, was riddled with bullets by gunmen at home in the southern town of Sarafand, Lebanese security sources said.

It was the first assassination of a pro-Assad figure in Lebanon since Syria's conflict started more than two years ago and follows a series of attacks in recent weeks against the Lebanese Shi'ite group Hezbollah, which has thrown its weight behind Assad on the battlefield in Syria.

Lebanon, whose own 15-year civil war ended in 1990, is struggling to stay on the sidelines of Syria's conflict. Car bombs and clashes between groups supporting opposite sides of Syria's war have become increasingly common.

Syrian state media blamed an "armed terrorist group" for the killing which took place at around 2 a.m. (7 p.m. ET Tuesday).

Lebanese security sources said supporters of the Syrian rebel opposition were top suspects in the killing in a Shi'ite area of southern Lebanon, where security is normally tight.

Syria's Sunni Muslim rebels have threatened to take the war across the border following the involvement of Lebanese Shi'ite fighters from Hezbollah in Syria in support of Assad, a member of the Alawite sect that is a branch of Shi'ite Islam.

After two years of gains in Syria's civil war, forces loyal to Assad have been making ground, while rebel groups have been plagued by infighting between Islamist fighters and the more liberal Free Syrian Army.

Jamo's wife, who was with him during the attack but not harmed, said on Hezbollah TV that officials from Syria's ruling Baath party had called her husband on Tuesday and warned him to be careful.

That call came on the day a Hezbollah security official was killed and two wounded when a convoy of vehicles heading to Syria from Lebanon was subjected to a bomb and gun ambush.

Car Bomb

Jamo, 48, a Syrian Kurd who lived in Sarafand for 20 years, appeared regularly on Hezbollah TV and radio broadcasts. The attack in the Shi'ite town shows anti-Assad groups can hit targets far from Sunni areas where they have the most support.

Last week a car bomb injured more than 50 people in a southern Beirut suburb controlled by Hezbollah, one of Lebanon's most powerful political and military forces. In late May, rockets were fired at a Hezbollah area of southern Beirut.

Across the border, Syria's civil war has taken on an increasingly sectarian and fragmented aspect, as the death toll rises over 90,000.

Near the Turkish border in the north, Kurdish armed men took control of the majority of a border town from Islamist rebel fighters from the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, a monitoring group said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-Assad group, said there were fierce clashes in Ras al-Ain on Wednesday in a district of town that is only around 200 meters from the Turkish border.

The clashes between Kurdish fighters, who generally support the creation of an autonomous region within Syria, and Islamist Arabs started on Tuesday after Nusra fighters attacked a Kurdish patrol and took a gunman hostage, the Observatory said.

The Observatory also reported clashes and bombardment in other regions of the country including the northern city of Aleppo, which is split roughly in half between rebel and army forces, and on the outskirts of the capital Damascus.

Government artillery hit the east Damascus district of Ain Terma, where rebels have managed to get a foothold on the fringes of the city centre, a government stronghold.

Government forces have renewed their assault on Damascus suburbs held by the rebels, taking some ground this week.

Diplomats have said Assad wants to take a firmer grip on the capital, his power base, as part of a strategy to secure a corridor from the city to his loyalist strongholds on the Mediterranean coast.

[Source: By Oliver Holmes, Reuters, Beirut, 17Jul13]

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