US-led strikes halt evacuation of ′Islamic State′ fighters from Lebanon | News | DW | 30.08.2017
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US-led strikes halt evacuation of 'Islamic State' fighters from Lebanon

The US-led coalition has carried out airstrikes to stall the evacuation of "Islamic State" fighters from the Lebanon-Syria border. The United States had blasted the Hezbollah-negotiated deal ahead of the move.

The US-led coalition against IS on Wednesday conducted airstrikes on a convoy of jihadis in Syria's eastern desert in an attempt to block the fighters from reaching the Iraqi border under a controversial deal struck with the Syrian army and the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah. 

The airstrikes aimed to halt the evacuation of about 300 IS fighters and their families from the Lebanon-Syria border toward an IS-controlled area near Iraq under an agreement reached on Monday. IS had been active along the Syrian-Lebanon border for years. 

Colonel Ryan Dillan, a spokesman for the U.S.-led alliance, said Wednesday's airstrikes hit vehicles identified as belonging to IS that were traveling toward the convoy of militants and their families.

The airstrikes were conducted in Deir el-Zour province, which is largely controlled by IS but has been at the center of a pro-Syrian regime offensive over the past months. 

Coalition warplanes also bombed a small bridge and destroyed a road the convoy was supposed to take.

The US presidential envoy to the anti-IS coalition, Brett McGurk, on Wednesday criticized the Hezbollah-negotiated deal that involved the evacuation of IS militants in exchange for jihadists handing over the bodies of Hezbollah fighterskilled in Syria.

Hezbollah defends evacuation deal

Amid widespread criticism, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah defended the group's role in the exchange.

He said the deal was agreed upon by the Syrian leadership, adding that the IS fighters were few in number and were being moved from one area of combat to another. 

"We transported those defeated militants from one front we fight in to another front we also fight in," he said, referring to the front in Deir el-Zour. 

The Iran-backed Hezbollah has been one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's main backers alongside Russia and Iran in the country's protracted civil war.

For the past several weeks, Hezbollah and the Syrian army have been battling IS along the Lebanon-Syria border, while the Lebanese army took to the offensive against IS inside Lebanon.  

Lebanon, whose army is backed by the United States, has said its military operation was separate from that of the Syrian army and Hezbollah.

But US officials have raised concern about coordination between the Lebanese army and Hezbollah, which is a designated US terrorist organization. 

The Lebanese Shiite group has an armed and political wing, making it a powerful force in the country's politics. 

Convoy of IS fighters

Hezbollah has defended the evacuation deal

The US-led coalition said it was not party to any agreement between the Hezbollah, the Syrian regime and IS and may strike the evacuees themselves.

"Russian and pro-regime counter-ISIS words ring hollow when they cut deals with and allow terrorists to transit territory under their control,” the coalition said, referring to IS, in statement issued after the airstrikes on Wednesday.

The deal prompted a sharp response from Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, who called it "unacceptable."

"We want to end terrorism not move them from an area to another," he said.

cw/ap/kms (Reuters, AP, dpa)

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