BEIRUT: A fourth Lebanese soldier died on Tuesday as the army renewed its attack on Daesh militants near Ras Baalbek and Al-Qaa on the Syrian border.
Like the three previous victims who died on Sunday, the soldier was killed when a land mine detonated under his vehicle.
The Lebanese offensive began at dawn on Saturday, and its forces captured two-thirds of the 120 square km held by Daesh in the first two days. “We have captured around another 20 square km, so we have about another 20 square km to go,” army spokesman Brig. Gen. Ali Qanso said on Tuesday.
Qanso said Lebanese forces had captured a key Daesh command post at Ras Al-Kahf, after artillery and aerial bombardment. He presented pictures of Daesh weapons, ammunition and mines recovered during the battle, as well as tunnels used by the militants.
Meanwhile, army engineers continued removing mines and booby traps from the roads, so that armored vehicles could advance. Qanso said the operation would cease only when the Lebanese Army reached the Syrian border, but refused to say how long that was likely to take.
The army estimated that about 600 Daesh fighters were in the area on the eastern border, where extremists 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 is not known, and Qanso said the captured soldiers were the army’s “top concern.”
In a simultaneous operation, the Syrian Army and Hezbollah continued their assault on Daesh positions in Qalamoun on the Syrian side of the border. Hezbollah said they had captured two strategic hills and seized a quantity of weapons.
The UN’s International Support Group for Lebanon said on Tuesday it supported “the efforts of the Lebanese armed forces in fighting terrorism and protecting the security and safety of the Lebanese lands.”