Hezbollah and rebels agree ceasefire at Lebanese-Syrian border

Hezbollah is demanding the release of five of its fighters held by Nusra Front in Syria as part of the deal.

By REUTERS
July 27, 2017 14:05
1 minute read.
Arsal

A Lebanese soldier carries his weapon as he stands at an army post in the hills above the Lebanese town of Arsal, near the border with Syria, Lebanon September 21, 2016. Picture taken September 21, 2016. . (photo credit: MOHAMED AZAKIR / REUTERS)

 
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BEIRUT- 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 Nusra Front militants in their last foothold at the frontier.

The ceasefire began at 6 a.m. (0300 GMT), halting fighting on all fronts in areas near the Lebanese border town of Arsal where Hezbollah launched its assault on Nusra Front jihadists on Friday, a military news service run by Hezbollah reported.

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A source familiar with negotiations, brokered by a Lebanese internal security agency, said the remaining Nusra Front fighters were willing to accept safe passage to Syria's rebel-held Idlib and talks were continuing to agree the route they would take.

Hezbollah is demanding the release of five of its fighters held by Nusra Front in Syria as part of the deal, the source said.

In a speech late on Wednesday, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said talks had begun between Lebanese officials and the Nusra Front on Tuesday.

Nasrallah said on Wednesday his group was close to defeating Nusra Front militants, saying they had "effectively lost" most of the land they held in the barren, mountainous border region known as Jroud Arsal.

Security sources say some two dozen Hezbollah fighters have been killed overall, and nearly 150 militants.

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Islamic State 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.

The 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 Assad.

The Arsal region was the scene of one of the most serious spillovers of the Syrian civil war into Lebanon, when Nusra Front and Islamic State militants briefly overran the town of Arsal, abducting dozens of Lebanese soldiers and policemen.

Islamic State is still holding nine Lebanese soldiers captured at that time. Their fate is unknown.

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