Lebanese army readies for IS battle

The success of the negotiations hinges on whether IS militants reveal the fate of nine Lebanese soldiers who were abducted in 2014 when Sunni militants overran the northeastern border town of Arsal.

4 August 2017 | 16:55

Source: Annahar

  • By Georgi Azar
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 4 August 2017 | 16:55

A picture taken on August 2, 2017 during a tour guided by the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah movement shows the Lebanese town of Arsal from across the border with Syria in a mountainous area around the town of Flita. (AFP Photo)

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army bombarded on Friday Islamic State militants entrenched within the outskirts of the northeastern Lebanese border town of Ras Baalbeck, the National News Agency reported.

The army is expected to launch an offensive to expel militants from the outskirts of Ras Baalbek and Al-Qaa border region if negotiations over the withdrawal of IS fighters to territories under their control in Syria fails, a security source told Annahar.

The success of the negotiations hinges on whether IS militants reveal the fate of nine Lebanese soldiers who were abducted in 2014 when Sunni militants overran the northeastern border town of Arsal.

“We will not negotiate unless IS discloses the fate of those captured soldiers,” Head of General Security, Major General Abbas Ibrahim said on Thursday after the safe arrival of five Hezbollah fighters released by Fatah al-Sham front, an Al-Qaida affiliated group previously known as the Nusra Front.

The Hezbollah fighters were returned to their families as part of a deal struck last week between Lebanese authorities, Hezbollah, Fatah al-Sham Front and the Syrian government after a week long battle to drive Al-Qaida affiliated militants from Arsal’s outskirts.

Hezbollah and the Syrian army's offensive to liberate the area straddling the Lebanese-Syrian border officially ended Thursday, with the exchange of Fatah al-Sham fighters for captive Hezbollah members.

Around 1000 Fatah al-Sham Front gunmen and 7000 refugees elected to leave to Al-Qaida-held Idlib province in Syria as part of the deal.

However, hundreds of IS militants remain entrenched along Ras Baalbek's outskirts with the Lebanese army preparing an offensive of its own to rid the area of militants.

Arsal, situated about 70 miles northeast of Beirut, was first overrun by hundreds of militants in 2014 given its close proximity to the Syrian regions of Al Qalamoun and Al Qusair.

Violence continued to mar the area until Hezbollah’ advances pushed Fatah al-Sham Front militants to withdraw to Syria while the army is expected to launch an offensive to drive out IS militants in the connected outskirts of Ras Baalbeck and Al-Qaa.

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