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Hezbollah chief says ready to battle IS on Lebanon-Syria border

After deal with local Al-Qaeda branch, Hassan Nasrallah says ‘eliminating’ Islamic State from area a top goal for his terror group

Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah speaking in southern Beirut, November 3, 2014. (AP/Hussein Malla)
Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah speaking in southern Beirut, November 3, 2014. (AP/Hussein Malla)

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said Friday he was ready to launch an offensive against the Islamic State terror group on the Lebanon-Syria border, days after forcing Al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch from the area.

In a televised speech broadcast on the Hezbollah terror group’s Al-Manar television channel, Nasrallah also demanded news within days about the fate of nine Lebanese soldiers kidnapped by IS in 2014.

Nasrallah said “eliminating” IS from the mountainous area known as Jurud along the Lebanon-Syria border “is in the interests of both Lebanon and Syria.”

According to Nasrallah the Lebanese army will decide when to launch an offensive on IS, adding that “from the other side the Syrian army and Hezbollah are ready.”

Nasrallah said if the battle against IS is launched from both Syrian and Lebanese territory “that will lead to victory and be less costly for everyone.”

“There is a final decision” to launch an offensive against IS, he said.

Addressing IS directly, he said: “The Lebanese and Syrians will come at you from all sides.”

A picture taken on August 2, 2017, during a tour guided by Hezbollah shows a pick-up truck carrying an anti-aircraft gun belonging to the terror group driving in a mountainous area around the Syrian town of Flita near the border with Lebanon. (AFP Photo/Louai Beshara)
A picture taken on August 2, 2017, during a tour guided by Hezbollah shows a pick-up truck carrying an anti-aircraft gun belonging to the terror group driving in a mountainous area around the Syrian town of Flita near the border with Lebanon. (AFP Photo/Louai Beshara)

There was no immediate comment from the Lebanese army.

Nasrallah said that IS holds around 296 square kilometers (115 square miles) on both sides of the border, of which 141 square kilometers are in eastern Lebanon.

His Shiite terror group is a key ally of the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad and has been battling alongside regime forces since the onset of the conflict in 2011.

Nasrallah’s remarks come a day after nearly 8,000 Syrian refugees and jihadists from Al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch were bused back to Syria following a ceasefire deal with Hezbollah.

In exchange, the jihadists released five Hezbollah fighters they had seized during clashes in Syria.

The swap was part of a broader ceasefire deal announced last week between the two sides which ended six days of fighting in the mountainous Jurud Arsal region in the restive border area.

A picture taken on August 3, 2017, shows fighters from Hezbollah being welcomed by supporters of the terror group upon their return to Lebanon at the Jusiyeh crossing on the border with Syria. (AFP Photo/Stringer)
A picture taken on August 3, 2017, shows fighters from Hezbollah being welcomed by supporters of the terror group upon their return to Lebanon at the Jusiyeh crossing on the border with Syria. (AFP Photo/Stringer)

The Lebanese army did not take part in the fighting between Hezbollah and the Al-Qaeda affiliate now known as Fateh al-Sham Front, but it reportedly coordinated with Hezbollah.

Nasrallah on Friday said negotiations that led to the ceasefire with the jihadist group were possible after being approved by both the Lebanese and Syrian leaderships.

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