Lebanon’s campaign against ISIS in its border region has been declared “mission accomplished” by the armed group Hezbollah shortly after it announced a pause in the fight against the militant group.
Around 600 ISIS fighters and family members have now left Lebanon and crossed the border into ISIS-held eastern Syria, according to the Syrian state-run news agency SANA.
“When ISIS found itself in the last corner facing a critical battle, it surrendered and collapsed and had no other option other but to accept our conditions,” the leader of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised address Monday.
“The issue we are talking about is not just the liberation of 140 square kilometers of the Lebanese territory but the liberation of all Lebanese territories which means there are no more terrorists existing on any hill, mountain, valley or border point,” Nasrallah said.
He said it was a case of “mission accomplished.”
ISIS’ first peace agreement
The transfer of ISIS fighters came after a peace agreement was struck between Hezbollah, the Lebanese army and ISIS on Sunday – the first deal the extremist Sunni terror group has made with a battlefield foe.
The Lebanese army said the ceasefire would allow negotiations on nine soldiers held by ISIS since 2014. The military later said it found eight bodies and was conducting DNA tests to see if they were indeed its soldiers.
The army, which was fighting on the Lebanese side of the eastern border, said it didn’t coordinate with Hezbollah, which was fighting on the Syrian side in West Qalamoun. Working in tandem with Hezbollah would be politically sensitive as Lebanon is an ally of the US which has designated Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
Nasrallah said Hezbollah relayed the information it obtained about the burial site of the soldiers’ bodies to the Lebanese civil protection authorities, who in turn sent the information to the army.
On its Twitter account, the media center of Hezbollah released video footage of modern air conditioned buses it said would carry 331 civilians, 308 ISIS fighters “with their personal weapons” and 26 injured to Syria.
“In principle, ISIS has been surrounded. In the past two days we have destroyed them, we killed 70 to 80 of them,” Lebanese Army spokesperson Col. Fadi Abou Eid told CNN on Sunday.
The agreement between Hezbollah and ISIS has nevertheless angered many including opposition alliance, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. They say negotiating with both ISIS and Hezbollah violates UN agreements to combat terrorism.