Militants Evacuate Lebanese Border for Syria
At least 7,000 Syrian refugees and al-Qaida-linked gunmen were aboard 113 buses that left Lebanon for Syria on Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.
The transfer from the Lebanese border town of Arsal toward the Syrian village of Flita was the last phase of an exchange deal between Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS) and the Lebanese Hezbollah group.
The agreement, brokered after a week of battles between the two groups, grants refugees and 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.
According to Reuters, at least 1,000 militants were among those transported into Syria on Wednesday.
U.S. Expresses Concern Over Al-Qaida in Idlib
A U.S. State Department official warned on Wednesday that a takeover of Idlib province by al-Qaida-linked militant groups would make it difficult to deter Moscow from bombing the rebel stronghold, Reuters reported.
Michael Ratney, the top State Department official in charge of Syria policy, said in an online letter that the latest offensive by the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham alliance (HTS) had put “the future of northern Syria in big danger.”
“In the event of the hegemony of Nusra Front on Idlib, it would be difficult for the United States to convince the international parties not to take the necessary military measures,” the diplomat said, referring to al-Qaida’s former affiliate in Syria (the group also known as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham).
Ratney’s comments come as HTS militants tighten their grip over Idlib province – the only governorate under complete rebel control. Last week, HTS seized the city of Idlib, as well as two border crossings with Turkey, following days of fighting with Ahrar al-Sham – a rival rebel group.
Journalists Wounded in Raqqa Car Bombing
Members of the so-called Islamic State detonated a car bomb near a house used by journalists as a press center in the northern Raqqa province on Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.
Staffers with the Kurdistan 24, or K24, TV station and the Arab 24 network were among those lightly injured when a blast targeted their building in the eastern neighborhood of Mishleb, which was captured by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces weeks ago. According to the AP, the explosion also charred one of their vehicles.
“We were in a safe neighborhood and a car came from underground, we don’t know where it came from,” journalist Yazir Othman of the Arab 24 network told the AP in a voice message.
It was not clear if ISIS had intentionally targeted journalists in the building but the group has carried out attacks against journalists and media activists in the past.
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