As much as half of Hezbollah’s fighting force in Syria has reportedly returned to Lebanon with the terror group having become “exhausted” by several years of fighting on behalf of Iran and the Assad regime.
The al-Hayat daily, which is published in London, cited an unnamed French source in a report Wednesday about the withdrawal, according to which roughly 3,000 to 4,000 of the group’s fighters have been recalled to Lebanon.
Al-Hayat’s source also claimed that Israel and Hezbollah have been refraining from attacking each other, in an informal ceasefire of sorts.
A de facto ceasefire would seem to mark a departure from Israel’s policy thus far in the Syrian conflict, which included repeated airstrikes against Hezbollah weapons shipments and supply convoys, as well as efforts by Israel to prevent Hezbollah and Iranian forces from entrenching near the Israeli Golan Heights.
The French 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.
“Israeli strikes in Syria are limited to Iranian positions because Hezbollah has heavy weapons and has gained great military experience through the war in Syria,” the source said.
Israel now believes that a war with Hezbollah would mean “a disaster for Lebanon and for Israel alike,” claimed the source, who was not named.
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 been meant to prepare the ground for any announcement of withdrawal.
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.
He said Hezbollah was creating a mechanism to help Syrian refugees in Lebanon return home, in coordination with Lebanese authorities and Damascus.
Lebanon hosts just under one million registered refugees from the conflict in neighboring Syria, although authorities say the real number is much higher.
Agencies contributed to this report.