A picture taken on December 8, 2013 shows a devastated street of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. Syrian regime forces made gains in the key town of Nabuk, one of the last rebel-held areas in the Qalamoun region bordering Lebanon, a watchdog said. AFP PHOTO/MOHAMMED AL-KHATIEB Image Credit: AFP

Damascus: A Hezbollah commander has been killed in battle in Syria, as a monitoring group accused regime forces of executing five civilians during fierce fighting near the Lebanon border.

The death of the Hezbollah commander came as Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s forces advanced in the key town of Nabuk, one of the last rebel-held areas of the strategic Qalamoun region along the Lebanese border.

Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite movement, has lost scores of fighters since it joined Al Assad in battling the rebels, inflaming sectarian tensions on both sides of the border.

A Lebanese security source confirmed that “Ali Bazzi, a high-ranking Hezbollah military commander, was killed today in a combat zone,” without specifying the location.

A website for Bint Jbeil, Bazzi’s hometown in southern Lebanon, also announced his death and posted pictures of him in military garb and holding an automatic rifle, saying he “died a martyr as he was carrying out his sacred duty as a jihadist”.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has repeatedly defended his group’s involvement in Syria, most recently on Tuesday in an interview with Lebanese broadcaster OTV.

Hours after that interview Hezbollah said a member of its secretive top leadership was shot dead near Beirut, blaming Israel for his murder.

Hezbollah has been fighting alongside Syrian regime troops in Qalamoun in recent days, hoping to secure the mountainous area linking Damascus with the central Homs province and deprive the rebels of smuggling routes across the border to Lebanon.

“There is fierce fighting in Nabuk between government forces, backed by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, and Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant,” two Al Qaida-linked groups, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The group, which relies on activists and medics on the ground for its information, said regime troops had “executed five civilians, including two children,” in the town.

Activists said they were able to transport the bodies to Yabrud, a nearby area held by rebels, and they uploaded pictures on social media that they said showed the bloodied corpses of the two children, one of which had a head wound.

The Observatory said Al Assad’s troops had taken “new sectors” of Nabuk Sunday after surrounding the town and pounding it with artillery for the past two weeks.

“The Syrian army is continuing to rake orchards in Nabuk, and has discovered a terrorist lair containing medical equipment and drugs,” state television said, using the regime’s term for the rebels.