Cease-fire halts Syria-Lebanon border fight against Daesh

Cease-fire halts Syria-Lebanon border fight against Daesh
Lebanese solders arrive on Sunday near the town of Ras Baalbek, Lebanon. (Reuters)
Updated 28 August 2017

Cease-fire halts Syria-Lebanon border fight against Daesh

Cease-fire halts Syria-Lebanon border fight against Daesh

BEIRUT: At least eight missing Lebanese soldiers are presumed dead, it emerged on Sunday, after cease-fires were announced in battles against Daesh in the Syrian border region.
The Lebanese army said its cease-fire took effect at 7:00 a.m. (4:00 a.m. GMT) on Sunday, bringing a pause to clashes in the barren and mountainous areas close to the border with Syria.
Hezbollah and the Syrian army, which are waging their own fight against Daesh in Syria’s western Qalamoun region, also declared a cease-fire, according to reports.
That side spoke of a “realized victory,” against Daesh, while Lebanon’s response was complicated by news that eight missing army soldiers who had been kidnapped by Daesh more than three years ago had likely been killed.
Daesh had reportedly held nine Lebanese soldiers captive since 2014, when its members along with other militants overran the northeast border town of Arsal.
The head of Lebanon’s internal security agency said the army and security forces had retrieved remains thought to belong six of the soldiers, and were conducting digs on Lebanese land for two others, according to Reuters. DNA tests were needed to confirm the identities, the news agency reported.
“We believe, almost certainly, that these are the remains of the soldiers,” said Gen. Abbas Ibrahim.
The fate of the soldiers was not known until Sunday, when their relatives gathered in Beirut as they awaited news in the case.
Ibrahim told the soldiers’ relatives that “God will help you,” according to a spokesman.
“I know this is a difficult moment ... Liberating the land calls for offering our souls to this country,” Ibrahim said, according to Reuters.
“We do not bargain. We are in the position of the victor and are imposing conditions.”
The remains of six bodies were retrieved from the ground, and it was found that they were wearing shoes issued by the Lebanese army.
News of the discovery regarding the soldiers came just hours after the army announced a cease-fire to hold talks over their fate.
Media close to Hezbollah said the cease-fire deal and negotiations included “the transfer of Daesh armed militants and their families to Deir Ezzor” in Syria, in exchange for the handover of five bodies of fighters buried in Syria, the remains of two other fighters and a prisoner, as well as revealing the fate of the Lebanese soldiers.
The sudden cease-fire and negotiations led to a state of political confusion inside Lebanon.
Ministers from the Free Patriotic Movement moved to the Lebanese army operations room in the barracks of Ras Baalbek in the northeast.
The ministers included Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, Defense Minister Yacoub Sarraf, Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil, Tourism Minister Avadis Kadanian and Economy Minister Raed Khoury.
“Lebanon is defeating … terrorism with its own capabilities and strength. This is a purely Lebanese decision,” Bassil said.
The Lebanese foreign minister added: “We did not accept to negotiate with this terrorist organization. We would not have let them go except in exchange for the most valuable thing in the world (our soldiers).”
“Our army defeated (the terrorists) and obliged them to flee. The real victory is to know the fate of the soldiers.”