Air strikes block ISIS convoy given safe passage by Lebanon

Lebanon had arranged for 670 ISIS fighters and their relatives to be taken in buses and ambulances to Bukamal, close to the border with Iraq, in exchange for the bodies of nine Lebanese soldiers.
Lebanon had arranged for 670 ISIS fighters and their relatives to be taken in buses and ambulances to Bukamal, close to the border with Iraq, in exchange for the bodies of nine Lebanese soldiers.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

US-led coalition not party to deal; terrorists were being relocated to Syrian stronghold

BEIRUT • US air strikes have left a convoy of ISIS fighters stranded in the middle of Syria, punctuating the American military's anger over a deal struck earlier giving the fighters safe passage to militant-held territory on the border with Iraq.

The air strikes blocked the road on which the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) convoy of buses and ambulances was travelling.

Other US air strikes hit militants apparently racing to join the stranded militants, said Colonel Ryan Dillon, the spokesman for the United States-led military coalition in Iraq and Syria.

"Earlier today, we did conduct strikes to crater the road, and we destroyed a small bridge to prevent that convoy from moving further east," Col Dillon said on Wednesday. "The convoy of buses and ambulances has not been struck, but there have been individual vehicles and individuals clearly identified as ISIS', and we did strike those."

He added: "If we can strike ISIS where we are able to do so without harming civilians, we will do that."

Col Dillon said the air strikes stopped the ISIS convoy before it reached militant-held territory, which meant the stranded fighters were deep within an area dominated by the Syrian government and its allies. The convoy had been travelling from west to east. The other ISIS fighters bombed by the coalition had apparently been coming to its rescue, on the same highway but from east to west.

TARGETED STRIKES

The convoy of buses and ambulances has not been struck, but there have been individual vehicles and individuals clearly identified as ISIS', and we did strike those.

COLONEL RYAN DILLON, spokesman for the US-led coalition, on the air strikes.

There were no reports from Syria that the convoy had reached its destination in Deir el-Zour province in eastern Syria, the last major ISIS stronghold.

The Lebanese army, in coordination with Hizbollah and Syria, had arranged on Monday for 670 ISIS fighters and their relatives to be taken in buses and ambulances from the Lebanese-Syrian border, near Arsal, to Bukamal, close to the border with Iraq. Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said the evacuees included 26 wounded fighters, 308 armed fighters and 331 civilians.

The ISIS group had been surrounded by Lebanese and Syrian forces on both sides of the border and made the safe-passage deal in exchange for turning over the bodies of nine Lebanese soldiers taken prisoner in 2014.

Said Col Dillon: "The coalition... (is) not party to this agreement between Lebanon, Hizbollah and ISIS... ISIS is a global threat, and relocating terrorists from one place to another is not a lasting solution."

Iraq joined the US military in criticising the decision to move the militants, with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi faulting Syria for relocating the ISIS fighters to its eastern frontier, which is the border with Iraq. "We fight the terrorists in Iraq," he said in a speech on Tuesday. "We do not send them to Syria - we kill them in Iraq."

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government yesterday declared that its forces had retaken the northern city of Tal Afar and the rest of Nineveh province, once almost entirely controlled by ISIS.

NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 01, 2017, with the headline 'Air strikes block ISIS convoy given safe passage by Lebanon'. Print Edition | Subscribe