Islamic State group fighters began evacuating a Syrian-Lebanese border region today under an unprecedented deal to end three years of jihadist presence, Syrian state television and Hezbollah said. The evacuation comes a week into a Lebanese army campaign against the group on the Lebanese side of the border, coinciding with a joint Syrian army and Hezbollah offensive in neighbouring Syrian territory.
Under the evacuation deal, several hundred jihadists and their families on both sides of the border are set to leave by bus for Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria, the country’s only province still under IS control. Today, Hezbollah and Syrian state television said that “buses transporting IS fighters have left the (Syrian) region of Qara, in western Qalamun, and are heading for the town of Albu Kamal in Deir Ezzor”.
Hezbollah said “hundreds of IS fighters” had left the border area of eastern Lebanon, but this was not confirmed by the Lebanese army.
Earlier, a Lebanese army source told AFP that no convoys would leave the area until DNA tests had been carried out on bodies found in the region at the weekend, believed to be the remains of eight Lebanese soldiers IS kidnapped in 2014. The Lebanese army launched an offensive against IS in the mountainous Jurud Arsal and Jurud Ras Baalbek border regions on August 19.
It said today it had seized most of the territory formerly held by the jihadists. Six Lebanese soldiers have been killed in mine blasts since the campaign began. At the same time, Hezbollah mounted a parallel offensive to dislodge IS from the Syrian side of the frontier.
The Lebanese army and Hezbollah announced a ceasefire on both sides of the border after reaching the evacuation deal over the weekend. The war ravaging Syria has overflowed into Lebanon on several occasions.
IS has claimed several deadly bombings, clashed with the army and Hezbollah as well as winning a foothold in the mountainous east of the country.