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Cease-fire begins in parts of Syria

BEIRUT -- The television station of Lebanon's Hezbollah group and activists say a 48-hour cease-fire has started in a Syrian border town and two Shiite villages in northern Syria between Hezbollah fighters and rebels there.

Al-Manar TV and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights say the cease-fire in Zabadani near the Lebanese border and the northern villages of Foua and Kfarya went into effect Wednesday morning.

People "who are in critical condition will be evacuated," a source close to the Syrian government told Reuters news agency. "Talks will discuss further steps."

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Hezbollah and Syrian troops have been trying to fully capture the one-time rebel stronghold of Zabadani for more than a month.

The capture of Zabadani would tighten Hezbollah's grip on Syrian territories bordering Lebanon and strengthen the Syrian government's control over of the Beirut-Damascus highway.

A coalition of rebel groups which calls itself Jaysh al-Fateh, or Conquest Army, had attacked Foua and Kfarya, which are home to mostly Shiite villagers. A large number of civilians were trapped there by the fighting.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that negotiations were underway between local rebels, Hezbollah and an Iranian delegation for the withdrawal of rebel fighters from Zabadani and the provision of humanitarian aid to the villages of Foua and Kfarya.

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