ISIS Surrenders Enclave on Lebanese-Syrian Border
Hundreds of so-called Islamic State (ISIS) fighters and their families were bused from a pocket of territory on the Lebanese-Syrian border into militant-held eastern Syria on Monday, Reuters reported.
It is not immediately clear how many people were transferred but Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech on Monday that 308 militants and 331 civilians were among those evacuated as part of an evacuation agreement brokered by his group.
ISIS is expected to hand over one Hezbollah captive and the bodies of some Hezbollah forces and one Iranian fighter killed in battles across Syria as part of the deal.
Monday’s transfers come one week after the Lebanese army and Hezbollah launched simultaneous but separate operations against ISIS positions in the border pocket from opposite sides. The forces then simultaneously announced a halt in fighting on Sunday, to determine the fate of nine Lebanese troops captured by ISIS in 2014. Lebanese authorities located the bodies of eight of the nine soldiers on Sunday.
The cease-fire paved the way for Hezbollah to broker the evacuation deal for the ISIS militants to be bused from a border crossing in Syria’s western Qalamoun region to the militant-held town of al-Bukamal in eastern Deir Ezzor.
The transfers end any insurgent presence along the Lebanese-Syrian border and mark the first time that ISIS has negotiated a forced evacuation for its fighters. What’s more, the withdrawal of militants from border areas will mean that the Lebanese army will consolidate evacuated areas along the frontier.
Netanyahu: Iran Building Missile Sites in Syria, Lebanon
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran on Monday of building missile sites in Syria and Lebanon to produce precision-guided missiles that could be used against Israel, the Guardian reported.
Netanyahu also accused Tehran of transforming Syria into a “base of military entrenchment as part of its declared goal to eradicate Israel,” during a meeting with the U.N. secretary general, Antonio Guterres.
Monday’s remarks come at a time when Israel is alarmed over Iranian maneuvers in Syria. Netanyahu voiced similar concerns over Iran’s widening foothold in Syria during a meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin last week.
Earlier this month, Israel’s Channel 2 television aired satellite images it said were of a missile facility under construction near the Syrian coastal town of Baniyas. It compared images of an alleged rocket factory near the Iranian capital Tehran to the structures in northwest Syria and concluded there was a strong similarity between the two.
SDF Commander: Raqqa Battle to End in Two Months
The three-month-long campaign to oust ISIS from Raqqa province should end within a couple of months, Reuters reported on Monday, citing a senior Kurdish commander.
“We cannot determine the time period in which the battle of Raqqa will end, precisely because war has its conditions. But we do not expect it to last long, and according to our plans the battle will not take longer than two months from now,” Nowruz Ahmed, a Syrian Democratic Forces commander, told Reuters.
In her first media interview, the SDF commander and member of its military council estimated that ISIS had between 700 and 1,000 fighters left in Raqqa. Most of these militants are holed up in central Raqqa, she said.
The SDF has been fighting ISIS inside Raqqa since June but their advances have been slowed by fortifications erected around the city, such as landmines and sniper positions. According to Ahmed, the SDF is currently in control of 60 percent of the city.
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