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Syrian state media, activists report heavy fighting in strategic province near Lebanese border

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This citizen journalism image provided by Aleppo Media Center AMC which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows anti Syrian regime protesters chanting slogans and waving the Syrian revolutionary flag during a demonstration, in Aleppo, Syria, Friday, April 19, 2013. Gunmen killed a government official in a Damascus restaurant, Syrian state media and activists reported Friday as regime troops and rebels fought fierce battles near the Lebanese border.(AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center, AMC)The Associated Press

Syria's state-run media and opposition activists are reporting heavy clashes in the strategic central province of Homs near the border with Lebanon.

The SANA news agency says four key villages — Qadesh, Mansourieh, Saadiyeh and Radwaniyeh — have fallen under government control on Saturday. The villages are close to the contested town of Qusair.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says there are casualties on both sides in the fighting in the area, which has been engulfed in clashes for the past two weeks.

Regime troops last week captured a hill overlooking several towns in the area and the highway linking the capital, Damascus, with the Mediterranean coast.

On Thursday, government forces captured a town in the province and rebels seized a military base in the area.