ISIS Submits to Cease-fire as Lebanon Announces 'Victory' in Syria Border Battle

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A Hezbollah fighter fires a weapon in Western Qalamoun, Syria, August 23, 2017.
A Hezbollah fighter fires a weapon in Western Qalamoun, Syria, August 23, 2017.Credit: OMAR SANADIKI/REUTERS

UPDATE: After weeklong battle, ISIS loses Lebanese border, to evacuate militants to eastern Syria

A ceasefire took effect on Sunday in an Islamic State pocket straddling the Syria-Lebanon border, where the jihadists have been fighting the Lebanese army on one front and Hezbollah with the Syrian army on the other.

The Lebanese army announced its own ceasefire took effect at 7 A.M. local time but did not mention a ceasefire on Syria's side of the frontier. 

Hezbollah and the Syrian army announced a ceasefire in their assault against the Islamic State in Syria's western Qalamoun region, Hezbollah's al-Manar TV said. 

The fighting began a week ago when the Lebanese army, and the Syrian army and Hezbollah, began separate but simultaneous offensives against the Islamic State enclave straddling the border.

Last week, Lebanon and Hezbollah each said they had made significant gains against Islamic State militants, driving them back into a smaller part of the arid hills on the border. 

Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil took to twitter to congratulate the Lebanese army on its "victory" over ISIS on Sunday morning from the Ras Baalbek military base in northern Lebanon.

In his tweets, Bassil said that "there weren't negotiations today, only a surrender" on the part of ISIS. He thanked the Lebanese army, and said that the next step is to address the matter of kidnapped soldiers, archbishops, and photographer Samir Kassab, who was kidnapped in 2013.

Northeast Lebanon saw one of the worst spillovers of Syria's war into Lebanon in 2014, when the Islamic State and other militants briefly overran the border town of Arsal. The fate of nine soldiers that ISIS took captive then remains unknown. 

Lebanon's army said Sunday's ceasefire took effect to allow for negotiations over the fate of the soldiers. Mediated talks have begun with the militants, a Lebanese security source said later.

The presence of two other militant groups on the border ended earlier this month, when they withdrew to rebel territory in Syria after offensives by Hezbollah and the Syrian army. 

Missing soldiers

The security source said on Sunday that Hezbollah members had entered an area in western Qalamoun to confirm that the remains of the Lebanese soldiers were buried there. 

In a speech last week, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said the Iran-backed group had begun talks with the Islamic State on a truce. 

He said that if the Lebanese state wanted to negotiate for the Islamic State to evacuate its territory, the Syrian government would be ready to accept any formal request from Beirut. 

Shi'ite Hezbollah is a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government and its forces fight alongside the Syrian army in major battles. Washington classifies Hezbollah as a terrorist group. 

Any coordination between the Lebanese army and either the Syrian army or Hezbollah would be politically sensitive in Lebanon and could jeopardise the sizeable U.S. military aid the country receives. 

The Lebanese army has said it is not coordinating its attack with Hezbollah or the Syrian army. 

A Western diplomat praised the Lebanese army's performance in the border battle in "a risky and complex operation" that the diplomat said would have been "simply unimaginable" a decade ago. 

"We see no evidence of substantive cooperation [between the army and Hezbollah]," the diplomat added. 

A source familiar with the talks said there has been some communication between the Lebanese army and Hezbollah in the run up to the simultaneous ceasefires on Sunday.

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