BEIRUT — Lebanon’s army on Sunday announced a pause in its offensive against Islamic State terror group militants along the border with Syria to allow for negotiations on troops held hostage since 2014.
The armed forces launched their campaign against IS fighters entrenched in the mountainous Jurud Ras Baalbek and Jurud al-Qaa areas on Lebanon’s eastern border on August 19.
“The army command announces a ceasefire beginning at 7:00 a.m. to make way for the last phase of negotiations linked to the fate of the kidnapped soldiers,” it said in a statement.
Nine troops are believed to still be held by IS after militants overran the town of Arsal along the Lebanese border in August 2014 and kidnapped 30 soldiers and police.
Four were killed by their captors and a fifth died of his wounds while 16 were released in a prisoner swap in December 2015.
The army has said the remaining missing troops were its “top concern” in its offensive against an estimated 600 IS fighters in the hilly border region.
The Lebanese terror group Hezbollah launched its own simultaneous attack against IS from the Syrian side of the border in an area known as west Qalamun.
Hezbollah’s War Media channel also announced a freeze in fighting on Sunday.
It said the unilateral pause was “in the framework of a comprehensive agreement to end the battle in west Qalamun against Daesh (IS).”
Lebanon’s army has insisted it is not coordinating its assault with Hezbollah.