Nusra Front Rebels to Receive Safe Passage to Syria in Hezbollah Ceasefire

Hezbollah launched an operation at the Syria-Lebanon border region in order to remove Sunni militants from the area

An image grab taken from Hezbollah's al-Manar TV shows Hassan Nasrallah,  giving a televised address from an undisclosed location, July 26, 2017.
HO/AFP

A ceasefire took effect on Thursday in a mountainous area of the Lebanese-Syrian border between Hezbollah and Islamic militants. Nusra Front fighters are now willing to accept safe passage to rebel-held parts of Syria, according to a source familiar with the Lebanese internal security agency-brokered negotiations

The ceasefire began at 6 a.m. local time, halting fighting on all fronts in areas near the Lebanese border town of Arsal where Hezbollah launched its assault on Nusra Front militants on Friday, a military news service run by Hezbollah reported.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Wednesday his group was close to defeating Nusra Front militants, saying they had "effectively lost" most of the land they held in the barren, mountainous border region known as Jroud Arsal. 

He said negotiations had begun on Tuesday between Lebanese officials and the Nusra Front over the withdrawal of remaining militants to insurgent-held territory in Syria. 

Security sources say some two dozen Hezbollah fighters have been killed overall, and nearly 150 militants. 

Islamic State militants in an adjacent area of the border zone are expected to be targeted in the next phase of the operation unless they agree to withdraw. 

The Nusra Front was al Qaeda's official wing in the Syrian war until last year when it formally severed ties to the global jihadist network and rebranded itself. It now fights as part of the Tahrir al-Sham Islamist alliance, which it dominates. 

Hezbollah has played a major role in fighting militants in the border region during the six-year Syrian war, part of a much bigger role it has played in the Syrian conflict in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. 

The Arsal region was the scene of one of the most serious spillovers of the Syrian civil war into Lebanon, when Nusra Front and Islamic State militants briefly overran the town of Arsal, abducting dozens of Lebanese soldiers and policemen. 

Islamic State is still holding nine Lebanese soldiers captured at that time. Their fate is unknown.