Syrian army agrees to ISIS-Hizbollah deal

BEIRUT • The Syrian army has agreed to a deal between the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Hizbollah that allows for the transfer of ISIS militants from the Syria-Lebanon border to eastern Syria under a deal negotiated by the Lebanese group, state media said yesterday.

"After the successes our armed forces and (Hizbollah) achieved in the western Qalamoun... the deal arranged between Hizbollah and the terrorist Daesh group has been approved," Syrian state television said, citing a military source, using a local acronym for ISIS.

It remained unclear whether the deal covers only ISIS militants on Syria's side of the frontier or on Lebanese territory too.

A ceasefire took effect yesterday morning in the ISIS enclave straddling the border, where the militants have been fighting Hizbollah with Syrian troops on one front and Lebanon's army on the other.

The Lebanese army announced that a ceasefire in its own offensive took effect at 7am but did not mention Syria's side of the frontier.

Hizbollah and the Syrian army declared a ceasefire in their attack against ISIS in Syria's western Qalamoun region, Hizbollah's al-Manar TV said.

The battle began a week ago when the Lebanese army, and Hizbollah together with Syrian government forces, launched separate but simultaneous assaults. Both offensives were advancing towards the border from opposite sides.

Lebanon and Shi'ite Hizbollah each said they have made gains against the militants, driving them back into a smaller zone in the arid hills on the border.

The ISIS enclave in the barren mountains marks the last militant foothold along the Syria-Lebanon frontier.

North-east Lebanon saw some of the worst spillovers of Syria's war into Lebanon in 2014, when ISIS and other militants briefly overran the border town of Arsal.

The fate of nine soldiers that ISIS took captive then remains unknown. The Lebanese army said the ceasefire would pave the way for negotiations over the fate of the soldiers.

A military source said ISIS militants had "succumbed under fire and asked for negotiations. But if any devious intentions appear", the army would press on with its assault near the town of Ras Baalbeck in the north-east.

Talks have begun with mediation by the head of Lebanon's internal security agency, a security source said. Several ministers arrived in an army command centre in Ras Baalbeck yesterday to monitor the situation.

Nusra Front militants and a Syrian rebel group withdrew from Lebanon's border region earlier this month. They departed for insurgent territory in Syria after offensives by Hizbollah and the Syrian army.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 28, 2017, with the headline 'Syrian army agrees to ISIS-Hizbollah deal'. Print Edition | Subscribe