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Middle East

'Islamic State' convoy stranded in Syrian desert splits in two

The US-led coalition said the 17-bus convoy taking IS militants and civilian evacuees from the Lebanon-Syria border to areas further east has split into two groups. It vowed to continue taking action against IS.

A convoy of buses prepare to evacuate Islamic State militants and their families from Qara

A convoy of buses prepare to evacuate "Islamic State" militants and their families from Qara

An Islamic State (IS) evacuation convoy that was attempting to relocate IS fighters and their families to militant-controlled territory in eastern Syria has split in two, after being blocked in the desert by US-backed forces.

Half the convoy is still idling in the desert but the other half appears to be heading back towards its previous location in western Syria.

"One group remains in the open desert to the north west of Al-Bukamal and the other group has headed west towards Palmyra," the coalition said in an emailed statement.

The US-led coalition announced Sunday that it would continue to block the IS convoy from moving further east into IS-held territory in Syria.

But the coalition issued a statement, saying, "food and water have been provided to the convoy," without elaborating.

Hezbollah-Syria obligations

Lebanon's Shiite militant group Hezbollah said in a statement on Saturday that it and the Syrian army had fulfilled their obligations by safely transporting the convoy of IS fighters and their families out of Syrian government territory. But it said that US warplanes were preventing the convoy from reaching its destination in IS-held territory.

The 17-bus convoy had been stranded in the Syrian desert, according to a statement released Saturday by the US-led coalition.

"The coalition has not struck the convoy. In accordance with the law of armed conflict, the coalition has struck ISIS fighters and vehicles, including a tank, armed technical vehicles and transport vehicles seeking to facilitate the movement of ISIS fighters to the border area of our Iraqi partners," the coalition said in a statement, using an alternative acronym for the IS militant group. 

In all, the coalition said it had struck about 85 IS militants and 40 IS vehicles near the convoy.

Read more: Hezbollah's new 'power' threatens Israel

As part of an agreement between the Syrian government and Hezbollah, IS fighters were transferred from areas near the Lebanese-Syrian border to the group's stronghold near the Iraqi border.

Later on Saturday, Hezbollah claimed the warplanes prevented humanitarian aid reaching the buses and called on the interantional community to intervene to prevent what it called a massacre. Six of the buses had remained in Syrian government areas, the group reported.

Shuttling a 'global threat'

The US-led coalition and Iraqi authorities said they would not accept the terms of the deal for the IS fighters and their families to move. They have asked Russian authorities to communicate to the Syrian government that the coalition will not accept such maneuvers.

"The coalition and our Iraqi partners were not a party to the agreement … to allow these experienced fighters to transit territory under the Syrian regime control to the Iraqi border," the statement said.

"ISIS is a global threat; relocating terrorists from one place to another for someone else to deal with is not a lasting solution."

Making gains

Backed by the US-led coalition, Iraq has made significant gains against the militant group over the past two months. It has dislodged the "Islamic State" militant group from Mosul and Tal Afar, a former transit hub along the group's strategic supply line between Syria and Iraq.

Read more: Who is the 'Islamic State' leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?

The "Islamic State" rose to notoriety in 2014, when it launched a blitzkrieg campaign across Syria and Iraq, culminating in the occupation of Mosul and nearly one-third of Iraqi territory.

Iraq-led forces have managed to reclaim more than 90 percent of the territory captured by the militant group.

ls,bik/jm (Reuters, AP)

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