2017-07-27 17:02 GMT+8
A ceasefire took effect on Thursday in a mountainous area of the Lebanese-Syrian border where Lebanon’s Hezbollah says it is on the verge of defeating jihadist militants in their last foothold at the frontier.
The ceasefire, beginning at 6 a.m. (0300 GMT), comes a week after the powerful Shiite militant group launched an offensive against the jihadists in the mountainous Jurud Arsal border region.
Lebanon’s official National News Agency (NNA) said the ceasefire was part of a deal brokered by the country’s general security agency chief Major General Abbas Ibrahim.
A Hezbollah fighter holds his weapon at Juroud Arsal, Syria-Lebanon border, July 25, 2017. /Reuters Photo
Under the deal, remaining fighters from the former al-Qaeda affiliate once known as al-Nusra Front will withdraw from the region.
“The al-Nusra fighters and their families will go to Idlib,” a province in northwestern Syria largely under the control of the jihadists, NNA said.
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Wednesday his group was close to defeating al-Nusra Front militants, saying they had “effectively lost” most of the land they held in the barren, mountainous border region known as Jroud Arsal.
He said negotiations had begun on Tuesday between Lebanese officials and the al-Nusra Front over the withdrawal of remaining militants to insurgent-held territory in Syria.
A Hezbollah member kisses the coffin of Hezbollah fighter Mohammed Chouaib, during his funeral in Toul village, Lebanon, July 24, 2017. /Reuters Photo
Security sources say some two dozen Hezbollah fighters have been killed overall, and nearly 150 militants.
ISIL militants in an adjacent area of the border zone are expected to be targeted in the next phase of the operation unless they agree to withdraw.
Six-year Syrian war
The al-Nusra Front was al-Qaeda’s official wing in the Syrian war until last year when it formally severed ties to the global jihadist network and rebranded itself. It now fights as part of the Tahrir al-Sham Islamist alliance, which it dominates.
Hezbollah has played a major role in fighting militants in the border region during the six-year Syrian war, part of a much bigger role it has played in the Syrian conflict in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. /Reuters Photo
The Arsal region was the scene of one of the most serious spillovers of the Syrian civil war into Lebanon, when al-Nusra Front and ISIL militants briefly overran the town of Arsal, abducting dozens of Lebanese soldiers and policemen.
ISIL is still holding nine Lebanese soldiers captured at that time. Their fate is unknown.
(Source: Reuters, AFP)