Lebanon army says in final stage of border battle with Daesh

Lebanese army soldiers gesture as they sit on their military vehicles in the town of Ras Baalbek, Lebanon, on August 21, 2017. (REUTERS/ Ali Hashisho)
Updated 22 August 2017

Lebanon army says in final stage of border battle with Daesh

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s army said Tuesday it had captured most of a mountainous area on the border with Syria during an operation to clear Daesh group jihadists from the region.
The army began its campaign in the Jurud Ras Baalbek and Jurud Al-Qaa areas on Lebanon’s eastern border on Saturday, capturing more than two thirds of the 120 square kilometers held by Daesh jihadists in the first two days.
“We have captured around another 20 square kilometers, so we have about another 20 square kilometers to go,” said army spokesman Brigadier General Ali Qanso.
He declined to be drawn on how much longer it would take the army to finish the operation.
Four Lebanese soldiers have been killed since the campaign began, including one on Tuesday when a land mine detonated under his vehicle.
The other three were killed when they drove over a land mine at the weekend.
At a press conference, Qanso presented pictures of Daesh weapons, ammunition and mines recovered during the fight, as well as tunnels used by the jihadist group.
The army estimated that around 600 IS fighters were in the area on the eastern border, where jihadists have long posed a security threat.
In 2014, they invaded the border town of Arsal, capturing 30 Lebanese soldiers and police.
Four were executed by their captors and a fifth died of his wounds. Sixteen were released in a prisoner swap in December 2015, but another nine soldiers are believed to remain in Daesh hands.
Their fate remains unclear, and Qanso said the soldiers were the army’s “top concern.”
The army’s operation comes after Lebanese militant group Hezbollah carried out its own six-day campaign against fighters from a former Al-Qaeda affiliate further south on the border area.
That offensive ended with a cease-fire under which 8,000 refugees and jihadists were transported to northwestern Syria in return for the release of five captured Hezbollah fighters.
Hezbollah and the Syrian army launched their own simultaneous attack against Daesh from the Syrian side of the border on Saturday, but Lebanon’s army insists it is not coordinating the assault.
Hezbollah is a key ally of Syria’s government and has bolstered its forces against rebels there.

US ‘suspects’ Iran seized UAE based oil tanker in Strait of Hormuz

Updated 48 min 11 sec ago

US ‘suspects’ Iran seized UAE based oil tanker in Strait of Hormuz

  • Ship tracking data shows the Panamanian-flagged tanker Riah stopped transmitting its location Saturday
  • A US defense official told AP that Riah is in Iranian territorial waters near Qeshm Island

LONDON: The US said it suspects Iran has seized an oil tanker that drifted into Iranian waters as it traveled through the Strait of Hormuz.

Ship tracking data shows the Panamanian-flagged oil tanker Riah, which is based in the UAE, stopped transmitting its location on Saturday.

The incident is the latest involving shipping in the region where tensions between Iran and the US have escalated in recent months. Iran has been accused of planting mines on several tankers as Washington ramps up economic and military pressure on the regime over its nuclear program and aggressive foreign policy in the region.

Iran also threatened to retaliate against shipping after British forces this month helped seize an Iranian tanker near Gibraltar as it attempted to deliver oil to Syria.

A US defense official told AP that Riah is in Iranian territorial waters near Qeshm Island, which has a Revolutionary Guard base on it. He said the US "has suspicions" Iran seized the vessel.

"Could it have broken down or been towed for assistance? That's a possibility," the official said. "But the longer there is a period of no contact ... it's going to be a concern."

The Riah, a 58-meter oil tanker, traveled from a port near Dubai through the Strait of Hormuz toward Fujairah on the UAE's east coast. After 11 p.m. Saturday something happened to the vessel, according to tracking data.

Capt. Ranjith Raja of the data firm Refinitiv told AP that the tanker had not switched off its tracking in three months of trips around the UAE.

"That is a red flag," Raja said. 

An Emirati official told Al Arabiya that the oil tanker is not owned or operated by the UAE and has not sent a distress call.

“We are monitoring the situation with our international partners,” the official said.

The ship's registered owner, Dubai-based Prime Tankers LLC, told AP it had sold the ship to another company.

Iranian officials have not said anything publicly about the ship.

*With AP