Hezbollah Says Seized Syria-Lebanon Border Valley From Sunni Militants

The operation is part of an offensive to oust jihadists from their last foothold along the Syria-Lebanon border

A screenshot provided by Syrian Central Military Media shows a Hezbollah fighter firing a rocket-propelled grenade during clashes with al-Qaida-linked militants on Lebanon-Syria border, July 22, 2017.
Uncredited/AP

Hezbollah said its forces seized a strategic valley from Sunni Muslim militants on Monday, the latest advance in an offensive to oust jihadists from their last foothold along the Syria-Lebanon border.

The Shi'ite Muslim Hezbollah said it had advanced from several directions in the Wadi al-Kheil valley in Juroud Arsal, a barren mountainous border zone that has served as a base for militants linked to Al-Qaida and Islamic State.

The advance gave Hezbollah control over what had been "the most important base for Nusra Front" in the area, Hezbollah's military media unit said in a statement.

The offensive, launched on Friday by Hezbollah and the Syrian army, has so far focused on militants from al Qaeda's former Syria branch, previously called the Nusra Front.

A picture released by Hezbollah shows an artillery gun firing towards militant jihadists' position in Jurud Arsal, a mountainous region bordering with Syria,  July 23, 2017.
-/AFP

Hezbollah has reported rapid advances against Nusra fighters. The next target will be territory held by Islamic State militants, local media have reported.

The Syrian army and Hezbollah recaptured the area around the town of Fleita on the Syrian side of the border on Sunday, the Syrian state news agency SANA said.

The offensive has so far killed 19 Hezbollah combatants and more than 130 Sunni militants, according to a security source.

Hezbollah has played a critical part in previous campaigns against Sunni insurgents along Lebanon's border, part of its wider role backing President Bashar al-Assad in Syria's six-year-old civil war.

Hezbollah's role has been criticized by its Lebanese political opponents, including Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, who is a Sunni.