First Published: 2017-08-11

Syrian rebels to pull out of Lebanon border enclave
Fighters from rebel group Saraya al-Sham, along with civilians who wish to return to Syria, will be escorted to border by Lebanese security forces.
Middle East Online

Movement of militant factions across Lebanese border was biggest spillover from Syrian civil war

BEIRUT - Fighters from Saraya Ahl al-Sham, a Syrian rebel group, will start on Saturday to pull out of an enclave in Lebanon on the border with Syria along with some civilians, the head of Lebanon's General Security, said on Friday.

About 300 fighters, along with their families and some other civilians who wish to return to Syria, will be escorted to the border by security forces, General Abbas Ibrahim told Reuters by phone.

Ibrahim said those civilians who had asked to leave along with Saraya Ahl al-Sham would go to the government-held Assal al-Ward district near the border. The fighters would go to a place that had been agreed upon, he said.

Ibrahim did not name the place. But a military media unit run by Hezbollah - which is closely allied to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad - reported that the fighters and their families would go to the rebel-held town of al-Ruhaiba in the Eastern Qalamoun district.

The group's departure follows that of the Nusra Front, which quit its enclave on the border early this month for rebel-held Idlib, in northwest Syria, after its defeat in a Hezbollah offensive.

During that evacuation and others of rebel groups inside Syria to insurgent-held areas, the Syrian government has allowed them to travel under protection in buses and carry small arms. This time, civilians will be allowed to travel in their own cars, Ibrahim said.

Hezbollah is a Lebanese Shi'ite group that has been a close ally of Assad during Syria's six-year civil war, fighting mostly Sunni rebels seeking to oust him.

The pull-out by Saraya Ahl al-Sham will leave an Islamic State pocket in the same area as the only remaining militant stronghold on the border. A Lebanese army offensive against Islamic State is expected to start soon.

The movement of rebel and militant factions across Syria's border with Lebanon represented the biggest military spillover of its civil war into its tiny neighbour.

The factions took positions in the hills that straddle the border around the northeastern Lebanese town of Arsal, home to tens of thousands of Syrian refugees. More than 1 million Syrians have sought shelter in Lebanon during the war.

Last week, Hezbollah's leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, said that while the Lebanese army would lead the offensive against Islamic State inside Lebanon, his group and the Syrian army would simultaneously attack it on the Syrian side of the border.

A Lebanese military source later said that this would not entail any direct military coordination between the Lebanese and Syrian armies.


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