Syrian regime troops score gains, push into strategic rebel-held town near Lebanon

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Associated Press

Posted on May 19, 2013 at 10:03 PM

Updated Monday, May 20 at 1:04 AM

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian troops have pushed into a rebel-held town near the Lebanese border, fighting house-to-house and bombing from the air as President Bashar Assad tries to strengthen his grip on a strategic strip of land running from the capital to the Mediterranean coast.

Government forces launched the offensive on the town of Qusair just hours after Assad said in a newspaper interview that he'll stay in his job until elections — effectively rejecting an opposition demand that any talks on a political transition lead to his ouster.

Regime gains on the battlefield could make it tougher for the U.S. and Russia to persuade Assad and his opponents to attend talks on ending Syria's 26-month-old conflict. Washington and Moscow hope to start talks with an international conference as early as next month, though no date has been set.

Even though the regime and the main opposition group have not committed to attending, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says he's hopeful it can take place "very soon," possibly in early June.

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