Last al-Nusra Front Militants in Lebanese Camps Cross Back Into Syria

Last al-Nusra Front Militants in Lebanese Camps Cross Back Into Syria

Last al-Nusra Front Militants in Lebanese Camps Cross Back Into Syria

Beirut- Thousands of Syrian civilians and Nusra Front militants and their families gathered on Wednesday in buses meant to transport them to the north of Syria, in implementation of the second phase of a deal between Nusra and the Lebanese Hezbollah, which aims to evacuate the area of Jroud Arsal of 1,160 armed men and 6,661 refugees.

The ceasefire took effect last week, just days after Lebanese Hezbollah and the Syrian army launched an offensive to drive Nusra Front and other Sunni Muslim militants from their last foothold along the Syria-Lebanon border.

More than 7,000 Syrian refugees and gunmen, including a top al-Qaida operative in Syria known as Abu Malek al-Talli, were aboard the 113 buses the left Lebanon's Arsal region toward the Syrian border village of Fleeta, according to the government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media.

The Jroud Arsal operation has highlighted the major role of Hezbollah in fighting militants along the frontier during Syria's six-year war, sending thousands of combatants to support Assad's government.

The final step this week was the departure of about 9,000 jihadists and civilians, including residents of Syrian refugee camps around the Lebanese town of Arsal.

Hezbollah fighters stand on their army vehicle at the site where clashes erupted between Hezbollah and al-Qaida-linked fighters in Wadi al-Kheil or al-Kheil Valley in the Lebanon-Syria border, Saturday, July 29, 2017.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR said in a statement on Wednesday it was not involved in the deal or the return of fighters and their families.

The first of five Hezbollah captives due to be released in the deal crossed into government territory at the same place, the Hezbollah-affiliated al-Manar television reported.

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The Al-Nusra Front was the Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda before it broke ties with the organisation and changed its name past year.

Michael Ratney, the top State Department official in charge of Syria policy, said in an online letter that the latest offensive by the Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham alliance (HTS) had put "the future of northern Syria in big danger".

In recent weeks, Hezbollah says it has regained control of around 95% of the area, culminating in the ceasefire deal, which was agreed last week.

The three Hezbollah fighters were released shortly after midnight Wednesday by HTS in return for the release of three al-Qaida fighters who were held in Lebanon.

Hezbollah fighters have fended off several Daesh attacks inside Lebanon.

"Buses that will transport Nusra Front militants and their families have started arriving in Jroud Arsal", the military media unit run by the Iran-backed Hezbollah said via social media on Monday.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri told reporters in Beirut that authorities are ready to negotiate to discover the fate of nine Lebanese soldiers who were captured by IS in August 2014 along with those taken by HTS.

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