Seven Hezbollah fighters were killed in battles with Sunni gunmen in a mountainous area of the Syria-Lebanon border on Monday, in which at least 16 rebels were also killed, a monitoring group reported.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition- affiliated watchdog, said a further 31 fighters from Hezbollah had been wounded in the fighting in the border area between Ras al-Maara in Syria and Arsal in northeast Lebanon.

There was no immediate comment from Hezbollah, which has aided Syrian President Bashar Assad in the Syrian civil war.

A Lebanese security official and a source close to Hezbollah said at least two fighters and 27 rebels were killed.

Syrian rebels increased their attacks on Hezbollah in the border region, the London- based Asharq al-Awsat reported on Sunday.

“The rebels are focusing on targeting checkpoints manned by Hezbollah members to force them to withdraw,” Syrian opposition activist Amer al-Qalamouni told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“The current situation does not allow the rebels to hold territory or get involved in large-scale battles,” he said.

“Despite Hezbollah’s boasts to have secured the border region in al-Qalamoun, the rebel formations clearly still have the capacity to strike at the group, especially in the towns of Rankous and Assal al-Ward,” Tony Badran, a columnist for the Beirut- based website NOW Lebanon and a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

“Hezbollah has been forced to send reinforcements, also to compensate for the redeployment of Iraqi militias back to Iraq,” said Badran, adding that the group still can count on support from “its allies in the Lebanese Armed Forces to cover its back on the Lebanese side, as it moves to engage this reemerging front.”

In addition, he asserts that the Shi’ite movement “benefits from indirect Western intelligence sharing to contain the threat of bombs targeting its areas in Lebanon.”

Syrian government forces backed by Hezbollah fighters drove rebels from major towns along the border with Lebanon in the last year. This shored up Assad’s control in a corridor of territory stretching north from Damascus and pushed the remaining rebels into the mountains at the border.

The Observatory said Hezbollah had captured 14 fighters from several groups, including the Nusra Front, al-Qaida’s official affiliate in the Syrian war.

Syrian government forces and Hezbollah “control the area, but they don’t control every cave and mountain – there are many areas to hide in the mountains,” said Rami Abdurrahman, the Britain-based head of the Observatory.

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