Published: Thu, August 31, 2017
Global | By Maureen Mccoy

Hezbollah leader defends evacuation of IS fighters

Hezbollah leader defends evacuation of IS fighters

Rather than fight to the death, this time the ISIS militants negotiated a ceasefire - and a way out.

Hundreds of jihadists started leaving the area on Monday, heading by bus for Syria's eastern province of Deir Ezzor, which borders Iraq and is the only Syrian province still under I.S. control.

The spokesman for the US -led coalition backing the SDF said earlier this month that there are 24,000 Arabs and 31,000 Kurds in the alliance.

Coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon told The Associated Press the coalition has already struck a small bridge and punched a crater in a road to keep them from moving further east toward the border with Iraq. The US military later confirmed the operation to PRI.

The top US envoy for the worldwide coalition against IS, Brett McGurk, tweeted on Wednesday that IS "terrorists should be killed on the battlefield, not bused across #Syria to the Iraqi border without #Iraq's consent".

The deal has been criticised by the coalition and by Iraq, whose army is also fighting against Islamic State in areas contiguous with the eastern Syria region to which the convoy was headed. Although Hezbollah members are believed to be the ones escorting the convoy, the Syrian government's involvement creates further risk for the USA if the coalition were to hit it. "The people in the convoy may not all be valid military targets, there may be civilians with them", he told PRI.

The evacuation was the first publicly announced agreement between ISIS and another country for the movement of its fighters.

The withdrawal was part of an agreement brokered by Hezbollah, a militant group thought to be more powerful than Lebanon's own armed forces.

During the battle, the army recovered eight bodies believed to be soldiers who were taken hostages by the Islamic State.

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That would see it dislodged from all but a few scattered Iraqi towns-including several close to the border with Syria's Deir Ezzor.

Lebanon has suffered from spillover of the Syrian war. The Lebanese army said the ceasefire would allow negotiations on the return of nine soldiers held by ISIS since 2014.

Four were killed by their captors and a fifth died of his wounds while 16 were released in a prisoner swap in December 2015.

Separately, the leader of Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, defended the Lebanese group's involvement in the evacuation deal in a statement responding to criticism of the move from Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. The U.S. also considers Iran-backed Hezbollah to be a terrorist organization.

Hezbollah's involvement in the operation against ISIS raises some awkward questions for United States policymakers.

"They know that Iraqis destroyed their second biggest city [Mosul] so that Daesh fighters would not escape and Iraq's neighbours would not be harmed". Hezbollah managed to inflict huge losses on terrorists linked to al-Nusra Front. Most of these militants are holed up in central Raqqa, she said.

The Lebanese army commander added that he cares most about the life of his soldiers and that one of the main achievements was to win the battle without going on with it till the end.

The Lebanese army has denied acting in coordination with Hezbollah, indirectly or otherwise.

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