The Lebanon-based terror group Hezbollah has significantly cut back the number of its troops on Syrian soil, according to Arab media reports confirmed by Israeli sources.
Several estimates indicate a reduction of almost 50%, meaning that 4,000 to 5,000 fighters remain out of an original 8,000.
Lebanese analysts say the cut follows the vanquishing of the so-called Islamic State terror network from most of the country, the return of the Syrian army to former IS strongholds and improved functioning of the Syrian government as President Bashar Assad and his Russian backers reassert control following a seven-year civil war.
Since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Hezbollah is estimated to have lost around 2,000 fighters, with some 10,000 suffering injuries.
In recent years, the Shiite organization has come in for sharp criticism within Lebanon — including from the Shiite Muslim community — for its extensive involvement in a battle not on Lebanese soil and not aimed at the group’s key enemy, Israel.
In a report Wednesday, the al-Hayat daily, which is published in London, cited an unnamed French source claiming that Israel and Hezbollah are maintaining an informal ceasefire at present.
Israel has expressed concerns in the past that Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsor are attempting to gain a foothold in southern Syria as a base to attack Israel from.
The source also claimed that Israel fears Hezbollah has been significantly strengthened by the fighting in Syria, despite the loss of many of its fighters and the resentment at home generated by its involvement in the war.
The report came just five days after Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, insisted a “big victory” over “terrorist forces supported by the US and Israel” was near in Syria, a statement that may have interpreted as a signal that Hezbollah would soon withdraw from Syria.
Nasrallah said rebel groups in the Daraa area were “collapsing” and he expected wide parts of southern Syria would be under government control “within days” as ceasefire agreements were reported with some of the groups.
“Many of these groups are reassessing, starting to ask for settlements and entering into reconciliation deals,” he added.