BEIRUT, JULY 27, 2017 – The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah said on Wednesday that the group was close to defeating Nusra Front militants in the battle along the Syrian-Lebanese border.
“We are in the face of a very big military victory,” Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech. The militants have “effectively lost” most of the land they controlled in the barren, mountainous border region of Jroud Arsal, he added.
His Shi’ite Iranian-backed group was ready to hand over any areas it captures from militants when the Lebanese army requests it, he said.
The Lebanese army has not taken part in the operation and has adopted a defensive posture guarding the town of Arsal.
Hezbollah has made rapid advances since it launched an offensive with the Syrian army on Friday to drive Sunni militants from their last foothold along the frontier.
The operation, in the outskirts of the Lebanese town of Arsal, has focused on militants from the ex-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s former Syria branch. The next phase is expected to target a nearby pocket of territory in the hands of Islamic State militants.
Nasrallah also said “serious negotiations” had started on Tuesday between Lebanese officials and the Nusra Front about the withdrawal of remaining militants to insurgent-held territory in Syria.
“There is seriousness, better than at any previous time,” he said. But he added that militant demands were still “far from reality”, and that the Lebanese state, the Syrian government, and Hezbollah must all agree to the terms.
Hezbollah has played a major role in fighting militants in the border region during the six-year Syrian war, along with its critical military support provided to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
On the Syrian side of the border, Hezbollah had fought “shoulder to shoulder” with the Syrian army around the town of Fleita and cleared the area of insurgents, Nasrallah said.