BEIRUT — The Lebanese army captured a number of strategic hilltops bordering Syria from Islamic State militants on Sunday, amid mounting expectations for a campaign to decisively defeat them there, the army and state media said.
The National News Agency said the army captured several hills between the frontier towns of Ras Baalbek and Arsal, and the army said in a statement it destroyed IS fortifications and killed several IS militants.
The militants have been a thorn in the country’s side since they began filtering in from neighboring Syria, which has been in the throes of civil war since 2011.
In 2014, the IS and al-Qaida-linked militants briefly occupied Arsal, before the army joined forces with the militant group Hezbollah to drive them back out of the town. The authorities have blamed a string of terror blasts in the country dating back to 2013 on the two extremist groups. The explosions have killed dozens of people.
The reports Sunday came two days after Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah announced the army would lead the fight to drive out IS from the border region once and for all.
The al-Qaeda-linked Fatah al-Sham Front agreed to vacate the frontier region in July, following a two-weeks-long military operation spearheaded by Hezbollah on the Lebanese side and the Syrian army on the other. More than 1,000 militants were given safe passage to Fatah al-Sham’s stronghold in northwest Syria’s Idlib province. Some 6,000 Syrian refugees accompanied them, preferring not to stay in Lebanon.