JFS Releases Hezbollah Captives in Hostage Deal
An al-Qaida-linked militant group released three Hezbollah fighters on Wednesday, following two days of hostage negotiations with the Lebanese government, Reuters reported.
In exchange, three unidentified individuals detained in Lebanon were handed over to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), a former Syrian affiliate of al-Qaida.
Another five Hezbollah fighters are still being held captive by the militant group.
It remains unclear when exactly the freed fighters were kidnapped. However, JFS announced Sunday that it had captured three Hezbollah fighters outside the Lebanese border town of Arsal.
Wednesday’s exchange means that the transfer of around 10,000 people – including militants, their families and other refugees – from the Lebanese border into rebel-held Syria is expected to commence Wednesday, after the two-day delay.
The remaining Hezbollah captives are expected to be released once the first convoy of evacuees reaches its destination in Syria.
Earlier this month, Hezbollah and the Syrian army launched a joint operation to expel JFS militants from a rugged mountainous section of the Lebanese-Syrian frontier. A cease-fire agreement was reached last week, granting refugees and the remaining JFS fighters safe passage to Idlib province and the Qalamoun region, leaving control of this corner of the border to Hezbollah, the Lebanese army and the Syrian government.
SDF Closes in on Raqqa’s Southern Districts
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are close to securing full control over Raqqa’s southern districts, Reuters reported Tuesday.
A Kurdish official told Reuters that around 90 percent of Raqqa’s southern neighborhoods have been freed from the so-called Islamic State (ISIS).
The development comes as SDF fighters advancing from the east reached within 330 yards (300m) of their counterparts advancing from the west.
By joining forces, the two groups would effectively cut off ISIS’s last remaining route to the Euphrates River south of the city – a move that would deal a significant blow to the besieged militant group.
The SDF launched an offensive to reclaim the northern city of Raqqa from ISIS in June, but its advances on the city center have been slowed down by heavy fortifications, land mines and sniper positions. Last week, the United Kingdom-based monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the Kurdish-led force was in control of 50 percent of the former ISIS stronghold.
U.S. and Russia Work Toward Post-ISIS Stability in Syria
U.S. secretary of state Rex Tillerson said Tuesday that Washington is working with Russia to prevent a new war between rebels and the Syrian government once the so-called Islamic State is defeated, Newsweek reported.
“What we are hoping to avoid is the outbreak of a civil war, because you know what we really have is two conflicts in Syria: the war against ISIS and the civil war that created the conditions for ISIS to emerge,” Tillerson said. “Again we’re working closely with Russia and other parties to see if we can agree on a path forward on how to stabilize Syria in the post-ISIS world.”
Laying out the State Department’s Syria strategy, Tillerson also said that President Bashar al-Assad had no role in the future of Syria and called on Iran to withdraw its forces from the war-torn country.
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