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Islamic State

Lebanon announces new 'Islamic State' offensive

Beirut has begun strikes against "Islamic State" positions near its border with Syria. The move is a precarious one, as it places the US-backed army tenuously on the same side as Hezbollah and Bashar al-Assad.

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The Lebanese army announced on Saturday the start of a long-awaited offensive against "Islamic State" (IS) militants positioned near the country's frontier with Syria. Army units and heavy artillery have already struck IS targets threatening northeastern Lebanon.

The situation for Beirut is a delicate one, however, as the armed paramilitary wing of the Lebanon-based Islamist political party Hezbollah is also fighting IS - but as an ally of the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Read more: How IS radicalizes teenagers using the internet

Lebanon's military relies on supplies from the US, which has not only denounced the Assad regime but also classifies Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. While the Lebanese military has said it will coordinate with Hezbollah to clear IS from the border area, it denied any collusion with Assad's forces.

According to a Hezbollah spokesman, the plan was for their forces and Assad's soldiers to attack from one side, with the Lebanese army fighting on the other side of IS territory, but that "each side is working alone."

Although IS has never made significant progress in Lebanese territory, their presence near the border has terrorized Lebanese citizens in nearby towns and villages for years. Kidnappings for ransom as well as intermittent shelling have become common.

The conflict in Syria has also had serious consequences for Lebanon politically, as an estimated 1.14 million Syrian refugees have fled to the small country, which itself has only about 6 million citizens.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun was at the Defense Ministry on Saturday to oversee the start of the operation. Politicians hope to clear the terrorists from a stretch of border territory that spans about 300 square kilometers (115 square miles), half of which is in Lebanon.

es/jlw (AP, Reuters, dpa)

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