Lebanon’s army declares pause in fighting against Islamic State
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Lebanon’s army declares pause in fighting against Islamic State

Lebanese military stops offensive in order to negotiate for troops held by IS; Hezbollah also announces halt to combat

Lebanese soldiers sit a top an armored personnel carrier in the eastern town of Ras Baalbek on August 21, 2017, after returning from fighting against Islamic State. (AFP Photo/Stringer)
Lebanese soldiers sit a top an armored personnel carrier in the eastern town of Ras Baalbek on August 21, 2017, after returning from fighting against Islamic State. (AFP Photo/Stringer)

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.

A member of Lebanon's armed forces, who was kidnapped by jihadists in early August 2014 in the eastern border town of Arsal, celebrates his release outside the government palace in downtown Beirut on December 1, 2015. (AFP Photo/STR)
A member of Lebanon’s armed forces, who was kidnapped by jihadists in early August 2014 in the eastern border town of Arsal, celebrates his release outside the government palace in downtown Beirut on December 1, 2015. (AFP Photo/STR)

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.

Smoke billows in a mountainous area around the Lebanese border town of Arsal on July 25, 2017 as seen during a press tour organised by Hezbollah. (AFP Photo/Stringer)
Smoke billows in a mountainous area around the Lebanese border town of Arsal on July 25, 2017 as seen during a press tour organised by Hezbollah. (AFP Photo/Stringer)

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.

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